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NCP-Congress ready to play ball if Uddhav Thackeray crosses the rubicon

Notwithstanding Congress ‘ideological dilemma’, sources privy to the confabulations between Maharashtra Congress leaders and Pawar and between Gandhi and state Congress leaders said, there is a ‘growing recognition’ that the Opposition alliance wi...

, ET Bureau|
Nov 05, 2019, 07.55 AM IST
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Though Sonia Gandhi initially wondered how Congress and Sena could ride above the ‘ideological divide’, there is now a sense of political pragmatism.
NEW DELHI: While the Sonia Gandhi-Sharad Pawar meeting was to demonstrate the importance they gave to developments in Mumbai, there were clear indications of a NCP-Congress resolve to step in if Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray made the first move towards disengaging with BJP.

Though Sena's interest has been informally conveyed to NCP and Congress leaders, they want Uddhav Thackeray to show that his party is not just bargaining with BJP, but ready work for a political realignment in Maharashtra. Pawar’s remarks that he would meet Gandhi is seen as Opposition’s way of telling Thackeray to decide soon what he wanted.

Notwithstanding Congress ‘ideological dilemma’, sources privy to the confabulations between Maharashtra Congress leaders and Pawar and between Gandhi and state Congress leaders said, there is a ‘growing recognition’ that the Opposition alliance will have to reposition, should the BJP-Sena rift provide an opening in Mumbai.

Though Sonia Gandhi initially wondered how Congress and Sena could ride above the ‘ideological divide’, there is now a sense of political pragmatism. Sources pointed out that Congress-NCP and Sena had worked together on issues such as backing UPA presidential candidates Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee and against BJP-backed Opposition candidates. It is in this context of Bal Thackeray-led Sena’s disengagements with BJP that Pawar’s nephew on Friday asked whether the late leader would have accepted BJP’s current attitude towards Sena.

If Sena is serous of delinking itself from the BJP, it may start the process by withdrawing its lone nominee in the Union Cabinet. The Opposition camps see tactical importance in Sena leaders — in a counter to BJP’s threat of imposing President’s rule if no government is formed by November 8 — request to the governor to invite the largest party (BJP) to form the government in Maharashtra. “If the BJP forms a government with support of Independents and without Sena, then the first test will come during election of the Speaker,” said an Opposition leader.

“In today’s national and Maharashtra politics, the BJP is NCP-Congress’ biggest ideological and political rival and if there is a chance to keep it out of power in Mumbai, our supporters will expect us not to squander it,” said a senior leader involved in deliberations. The parties are also livid over the unprecedented BJP poaching of a record 32 NCP-Congress MLAs before polls. They are aware it was done by deploying tools of power that tapped the underbelly of Maharashtra’s politics-business nexus. A majority of defectors had high stake in running educational institution chains, sugar factories and cooperatives which depended on the ‘understanding’ of the state government. “If the BJP forms the government again, there is a possibility that the CM would redeploy same tactics to engineer more resignations/defections from Opposition MLAs,” said another leader. So, if the Sena can keep its MLAs together and cross the Rubicon, NCP-Congress will be ready to play ball. Whether Congress will join the coalition or support an anti-BJP government will then be technical. Congress sources said if BJP-Sena breaks, theCongress “need not openly support Sena” but can lend tactical cushion by taking an ‘anti-BJP stand’ in the assembly.”

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