Keeping BJP out is our No.1 priority – Prithviraj Chavan on Shiv Sena option

Shiv Sena Bhavan, Dadar, Mumbai

With only a day remaining for the BJP to inform the Raj Bhawan of its final stand on forming the government in Maharashtra, the state-leadership of the Congress Party seems to have fully come around to the idea of lending support to a government involving rival Shiv Sena.

Speaking to a TV channel from a resort in Rajasthan — where all of Congress’ MLAs from Maharasthra have been put up for ‘safekeeping’ — the former chief minister and current leader of Congress legislative party in the assembly said his party’s No.1 priority is to stop the BJP.

Asked whether this meant that Congress will support Shiv Sena, Chavan said: “That’s in the future. We don’t know what will happen. Our primary priority is to stop the BJP. Everyone is of unanimous opinion that BJP should be stopped, because they are not a democratic party, they don’t believe in democracy at all and if they continue in the state, they will just cause the Congress Party to be shut down.”

The comments reinforce recent reports quoting anonymous sources that the Maharashtra unit of the Congress Party is fully on board with the idea of supporting a non-BJP alliance, including one involving Shiv Sena.

At the same time, there has been no confirmation about the exact formula that is being worked out.

In an editorial in Shiv Sena’s official newspaper Saamna, party leader Sanjay Raut indicated that Sharad Pawar, head of Nationalist Congress Party, will play a role in the new formation. Sena has always looked upon Pawar and the NCP more favorably than the Congress as both are ‘Maharashtrian’ parties.

Soon after the results of the election were announced two weeks ago, Pawar had categorically rejected any chance of him joining the Shiv Sena in an alliance to provide a non-BJP government.

However, in his editorial in Samna, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said: “Uddhav Thackeray will decide who will become the next Chief Minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar will play an important role in this process.”

Both NCP and Shiv Sena are focused on Maharashtra and have not had much success outside the state. A continued presence in the state, therefore, is matter of life and death for both.

While NCP has been lucky enough to find an ‘understanding’ partner in Congress, Shiv Sena has not been so lucky with BJP. The Sena suspects the BJP of plotting behind its back to eliminate it from the state.

Like Sena, Congress too views BJP as an existential threat, and is increasingly willing to adopt extreme measures to stop its march.

However, Pawar — arguably the most astute of the state’s politicians — has been opposed to teaming up with Shiv Sena as he believes it will dilute the Congress-NCP alliance’s brand and secular credentials — a sentiment that finds takers among Congress’ national leadership.

However, both the NCP and the Congress’ national leadership are known to be increasingly coming around to the idea of at least offering ‘outside support’ to a Shiv Sena government, given the prolonged, bitter and fruitless negotiations between BJP and Sena over the last two weeks.

In his interview, Chavan said the opposition has given everyone and everything a chance, including the winning alliance and the largest party.

“The largest political party has not staked a claim. Now the president will have to look at the third option, which is a post-poll alliance,” he said in an interview with Malayalam channel Asianet.

Chavan also argued that the Sena and BJP can no longer be considered to be in alliance, given that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis resigned yesterday, after failing to convince Sena to back him for another term.

“After the new situation, where Devendra Fadnavis resigned and the alliance between Shiv Sena and BJP got over, we met with our alliance partner Sharad Pawar and we discussed the situation. We are also discussing the current situation in the state with the Congress High Command,” Chavan said.