Shiv Sena could face ‘expansion’ problems in Pune region
While Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray is all set to helm the new coalition government, the dramatically altered political equations could pose problems for his party’s expansion in Pune and western Maharashtra, where Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress have their traditional vote bases.
According to analysts, while the NCP will aggressively expand and seek to reclaim lost ground in this region, the Sena faces a daunting challenge as its influence here has been stunted in recent years with the ascendancy of its erstwhile ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Of the three parties in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), the Sena is the weakest in terms of its party base in Pune. The Sena’s new allies — Congress and NCP — have always a traditionally strong representation in the local bodies, the Zilla Parishads and the municipal councils and corporations in Pune and western Maharashtra,” observed senior political analyst Rajendra Pandharpure.
He notes that while Mr. Thackeray would be Chief Minister, the dominant influence in this improbable coalition would that be of the NCP, as the refrain among party workers is that their saaheb (Sharad Pawar) has been instrumental in forming this government.
Further, the BJP’s refusal to leave a single seat in Pune for the Sena ahead of the Assembly elections had caused resentment among Sena leaders, while giving workers headaches about their party’s future and existence in the city.
“Should this coalition continue till local body elections, especially the crucial Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad civic polls in 2022, it remains to be seen how willingly the NCP and the Congress would share seats with Sena,” Mr. Pandharpure added.
In the past, when the Sena was the ‘big brother’, it was said that the BJP had to hold the Sena’s hand to win in the rural pockets in Pune district while the latter needed the BJP’s base to win in the urban pockets.
“Since 2014, the BJP has expanded its base and presence among all sections of society. The question is in which direction will Sena be able to expand in this region as the other three big parties — NCP, Congress and BJP — have their presence in different pockets and bodies,” said Mr. Pandharpure, adding that a pall hangs over the Sena’s renaissance in terms of party structure despite their securing the Chief Minister’s post.
Another city-based political observer said that with daggers drawn between the two estranged allies, the BJP would also seek to wrest the ‘Hindutva’ space from the Sena, now that the latter has tied itself to so-called ‘secular’ parties
The Congress in the city faces a challenge of a different sort. While the Assembly poll results proved that the party still retained a core base, the Congress’ performance in the State has largely been due to the efforts of individual leaders and party workers, who seized the initiative from a paralysed and muddled Central and State leadership.
“The Congress top brass in the State should encash on this opportunity [of government formation] to focus on building frontal organisations like the NSUI, the Mahila [women] Congress and the Youth Congress in the city which have lost their vibrancy and become weak,” said Pune Congress general secretary Ramesh Iyer.
Stating that it was imperative for State Congress leaders to build a second rung of leadership within the party, he rued the fact that the organisation in Pune city had been steadily weakened since senior Congressman Suresh Kalmadi’s descent into political oblivion and the raging factionalism among the leadership.
“Given that youth constitute 70% of the electorate, State leaders should make sure that opportunities are given to young leaders within the party for them to grow,” Mr. Iyer said.
According to another analyst, the Congress had not much choice but to ally with the Sena and the NCP as 33 of their 44 elected legislators were allegedly strongly in favour of forming a government with Mr. Thackeray’s party, despite the contrasting ideologies.
“The Congress would have faced a major split had it not gone along with the Sena as a majority of the elected MLAs were keen to be a part of the power sharing process. Having said that, the Central and State Congress leadership must now take measures to revive their moribund organisation in Pune and western Maharashtra,” said the analyst.
“Congress leader Vijay Wadettiwar would be a good choice as a new MPCC chief as he is an aggressive leader with a mass base. His leadership could prove effective than that of erstwhile Congress state chiefs Manikrao Thakre and Ashok Chavan,” he said.
The NCP, which won two Assembly seats in Pune, will seek to play a dominant role in this coalition in Pune and western Maharashtra.
“Besides our performance in the Assembly polls, we also have 40-odd corporators in the PMC. The Pimpri-Chinchwad civic body, too, was dominated by us until the BJP’s win in the 2017 civic polls. Now, with the tables turned on the BJP, we will go all out and try and oust them from local bodies as well,” said a Pune NCP leader.