Shiv Sena, the ‘new Lalu’ for Congress

Shiv Sena, the ‘new Lalu’ for Congress

It is unclear when the Sena will join the UPA but reports suggest that it could be sooner than later

Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray. Credit: PTI File Photo

Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee’s newfound aggression in grabbing the prime space in the opposition has let the Congress know who its real friends are and who could remain with it through thick and thin. And lo and behold, Shiv Sena, which was BJP’s closest ally till a few years ago, has emerged as the new bosom pal of the Congress, much to the astonishment of many a political pundit.

The adage ‘politics makes strange bedfellows’ is well known but seldom does politics take a 360-degree turn as this. At a time when Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi are seeking greater unity in the opposition space, the Sena has become the darling of the Grand Old Party. Though the Sena is not so far part of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the Congress-led alliance at the national level, it has achieved the status that Lalu Prasad of the RJD had managed during the UPA-I tenure of 2004-2009. Then, Lalu was virtually the convenor of the UPA.

At that time, Lalu Prasad was the first leader to pitch for Sonia as prime minister. It was a time when Congress leaders themselves were muted about their leader and many of them believed that the Congress had no chance in the 2004 elections when the BJP was led by a veteran like A B Vajpayee.

Also Read | No chance of an opposition front without Congress, says Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut

Sena leader and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray may be ailing with a spine problem but he has shown the spine to publicly stand by his party’s newfound ally with which it had crossed swords umpteen number of times since its inception over half a century ago. And it must be understood that taking a bold stand against Mamata’s new tactics was a painful decision for Uddhav, who, if one goes by talk in political circles, is a huge fan and admirer of the West Bengal Chief Minister.

Uddhav is more than a silent admirer of Mamata since the street fighter in her drove out the CPM-led Left Front from power in the state. In 2010, soon after his son Aaditya’s political debut as the chief of the Yuva Sena — the youth wing of the Shiv Sena — Uddhav had sent him to New Delhi to meet the then Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee in the Manmohan Singh government. Aditya had sought reservation of a few railway coaches on the suburban train services for students and senior citizens at all times. That Mamata paid no heed to the request is another matter.

Unambiguous statement

Sena leader Sanjay Raut’s unequivocal declaration that there cannot be an opposition alliance possible without Congress at the helm was more than music to the ears of the Gandhis and a setback to Mamata’s newfound political consultant Prashant Kishor. The unambiguous statement of Sena signals the fact that the Uddhav-led party sees its future with the Congress and has virtually burnt its bridges with the BJP. Sena’s statement also means Thackeray sees a better future for Aaditya with Rahul at the helm. The Sena mouthpiece Saamna which declares itself as the “world’s most discussed newspaper” had on umpteen occasions in recent years hailed Rahul Gandhi for the way he takes on the Narendra Modi dispensation. 

NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, who is the architect of the Maha Vikas Aghadi experiment in Maharashtra, must have been taken aback by the way Sena and Congress are gelling. Some Sena observers, however, say that Uddhav has hardly any option but to keep Congress in good humour when the elections to the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation are scheduled in the next few months. Retaining hold over the corporation is virtually a life-and-death question for the party espousing the cause of the ‘Marathi Manus’. 

It is equally true that the aggressive methods of the BJP under Modi-Shah have been slowly but surely turning friends into opponents. Facing intense humiliation, some like Sena come out after biding their time till an opportunity arises. Sena is not the first. They were followed by the Telugu Desam Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal. Reasons might be different. 

BJP’s march into Telangana is making the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti nervous and the just-concluded session of Parliament shows that it is behaving like an opposition party on certain issues.

Uddhav’s leadership may not be flamboyant like his legendary father Bal Thackeray’s. He shows outward calm but strikes when the iron is hot. It is unclear when the Sena will join the UPA but reports suggest that it could be sooner than later. The Sena is said to be arguing that it is time to expand the ‘weak’ UPA by inviting parties like TRS, YSRCP, BJD and even Trinamool Congress. 

All in all, interesting times are ahead politically as Modi-Shah have been hit hard by the farmers’ agitation and in fact, are in retreat. 

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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