On 21 May 2023, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar addressed the meeting of party workers in Kolhapur and declared “We are the Big Brother.” Reminding the gathering that “Congress has 44 seats while we have 54”, Ajit Pawar essentially staked claim to higher number of seats in the MVA seat sharing formula. The UBT Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut referring to the statement of Ajit Pawar took a jibe next day saying that “a DNA test” is required to ascertain the same. The showdown between NCP and UBT leader is the latest in an expected series of flareups leading to the MVA negotiating table. With less than a year to go for the Lok Sabha elections, the MVA in Maharashtra has already started bickering over the seat sharing agreement. The NCP, UBT Sena and Congress will have to engage in negotiating the 48 Lok Sabha seats for 2024 elections. The 288 Vidhan Sabha seats of Maharashtra are also due for election in the same year.
With formal talks yet to be started, media reports emerge that UBT Sena is insisting on contesting all 18 seats which the Shiv Sena won in 2019 Lok Sabha election. The Congress, meanwhile, is demanding 16 seats even though it won only 1 seat in 2019. Certain local media speculated that each of the three party may contest 16 seats each. The UBT Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut rejected it saying that these reports are baseless. Ajit Pawar’s statement of being the big brother comes amidst this narrative indicating that NCP intends to fight the highest number of seats. With the UBT Sena today comprising less than 15 MLAs some of whom are said to be planning to switch to Shiv Sena under Eknath Shinde, the NCP leaders are planning to use their MLA numbers as a bargaining chip in the negotiating table. However, the initial signs and a long track record of these three parties and its leaders indicate that MVA seat sharing is doomed from the start.
Back in 1978, a Marathi term called “Pathit Khanjir Khupasne’’ (A dagger on the back) was introduced in Maharashtra politics when Sharad Pawar backstabbed sitting CM Vasant Dada Patil and formed his own government. Sharad Pawar became Chief Minister and Union Minister multiple times in his career spanning more than five decades but could not wash away this stigma. In an interview as recent as last year, Sharad Pawar himself admitted that this impression continues to persist. Sharad Pawar has a track-record of breaking away from Congress multiple times and getting back again in greed of power. In Maharashtra and in Delhi, Sharad Pawar, thus, earned a reputation for being “unreliable”. After forming the NCP speaking up against Sonia Gandhi, Sharad Pawar took a complete U-turn and joined the UPA which was led by her in a few months. The Pawar family and NCP leaders have no qualms on ideological front too. After positioning themselves on secular plank for decades, they offered unconditional support to BJP in 2014 without even being asked for. In 2019, NCP aided Uddhav Thackeray in talks with the Congress and ensured that Shiv Sena ditch their Hindutva ideology to join ranks to form MVA. The first claimant of Big Brother role in the negotiating table of MVA today is, thus, a party with a reputation of backstabbing.
In 2014, the BJP under Devendra Fadnavis, despite having offer of support from NCP, stuck to its ideology and chose Shiv Sena as ally again. In the 5 years of government, the Shiv Sena through its mouthpiece Saamana persistently attacked the BJP. The BJP as a bigger brother tolerated these political tantrums and again formed alliance in 2019 too. In the aftermath of 2019 elections, Uddhav Thackeray chose to cheat the people’s mandate by joining hands with NCP and Congress. After lying that BJP leader Amit Shah promised Chief Ministership behind closed door, Uddhav Thackeray sacrificed everything which Shiv Sainiks and Balasaheb held dear – the Hindutva ideology. Uddhav Thackeray repeatedly lied that CM’s chair was agreed upon while the Press Conference in public domain right after the alleged closed door meeting doesn’t find any mention of this.
In fact, PM Modi himself in numerous rallies in presence of Uddhav Thackeray on-stage made it clear that it is Devendra Fadnavis who will be back as CM. After keeping mum throughout the campaign, Uddhav resorted to lying on the day of election results. Uddhav Thackeray, who is with MVA today, will undoubtedly be looked upon with suspicion in the negotiating table. UBT Sena leaders may soon realize that liars don’t have enough leverage in any table. While NCP with a reputation for backstabbing and UBT Sena led by liar has credibility issues, Congress has equally serious credibility and winnability issue. With a mere 1 seat out of 48, Congress in Maharashtra is a meek force. The 44 seats in Vidhan Sabha are mostly owing to few local-strongman and not a result of goodwill of party or its leadership. After the Modi wave elections of 2014, Congress has a consistent track record of losing. In one-to-one fights with BJP in Lok Sabha, it has been complete wipeout in many states. In States with regional parties, Congress has been ceding ground to local satraps. The leadership of Rahul Gandhi doesn’t inspire any confidence. Many local leaders with support base have already switched in search of greener pastures. A party devoid of talent to win enough seats will always struggle to negotiate. Everybody negotiates with a talented or potential winner but nobody wants a proven loser at the table.
Given the dynamics which each party finds itself in, it is clear that MVA deal is a non-starter. While NCP with its backstabbing record is looked upon warily, Uddhav Thackeray’s lying habit and non-existent party name or symbol combined with very low winnabilty of Congress makes MVA seat sharing an impossible deal. Shiv Sena and Congress don’t have talent or winnability. NCP doesn’t have iota of credibility even though some local chieftains of NCP can win their limited turf wars. Few among them may switch to BJP closer to elections.
No close-knit political activity or leader can sustain until it has talent to fuel its work, credibility in the words of its leaders and deep trust and goodwill among its constituents. As a known-liar, a habitual backstabber and a record loser negotiate seat sharing, it is clear that MVA has already collapsed even before the discussion. The Elder Brother, Younger Brother debate aside, the MVA bird is dead and everyone is beating around the bush than stating the obvious fact. BJP DCM Devendra Fadnavis hit the nail on the head when he declared “Popat Mela Ahe” (The parrot is dead).
Shweta Shalini is BJP Spokesperson and Advisor to former Chief Minister of Maharashtra Shri Devendra Fadnavis. She is also the State in-charge of BJP North Indian Cell.