An agenda for governance, not an election manifesto, in which contentious issues like the Uniform Civil Code and Ram Mandir will be kept aside, will be the working document on the basis of which the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Shiv Sena will come together to stake claim to form a government in Maharashtra in the near future, top source in the grouping said.
All the three parties concede that significant sacrifices have been made by all in the process of coming together.
The Sena has not just lost a Cabinet berth in the Union government and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), but also in several municipalities: In both Nashik and Aurangabad, it is in power in alliance with the BJP.
The situation is even more tenuous in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), where the Sena has a majority but could easily be pushed back by BJP if the Congress and NCP don’t back it. “Municipalities are its (Sena’s) problem. It has to sort it out,” said a Congress leader.
The NCP was riven in the two until its leader, Sharad Pawar, put his foot down on November 11 and announced that until a common minimum programme was in place, nothing would move. In a way, he was giving the Sena a chance for an honourable exit because he sensed that many in his party were not for rocking the boat and tying up with a grouping that was sure to enrage the ruling BJP and invite the wrath of the Enforcement Directorate.
At the meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), interim party president Sonia Gandhi’s reluctance at doing a deal with the Sena was hardly hidden: She said publicly that she felt she was betraying the tenets that Motilal Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru stood for. “When members of the CWC saw her face, they too, began humming the same tune. There were some issues mooted by supporters of Rahul Gandhi as well,” said a Congress leader. Ultimately, it was down to two groups: Those who had won in the Assembly election and declared their intention of not fighting another one so soon; and those, like K C Venugopal and A K Antony, who had little to lose by invoking the secularism of past leaders and advocated that the Congress’s ideological purity would be compromised if it were to join hands with the Sena.
Compromises also had to be made on the sharing of positions. At the moment, it seems that Sena and NCP will agree to share the chief ministership for two and a half years each with the Congress holding the deputy chief ministership for the full five-year period. Haggling and negotiations on portfolios are expected to continue till they are hammered out by the top leadership.
“It is a difficult negotiation,” said a Congress leader. “Sena has no idea how decisions are taken in our party. We don’t know how Sena takes decisions. Maybe because of this, there is distrust and suspicion. We will have to work hard to overcome that.” When asked about the chances of Sena returning to the BJP fold, Congress leaders said they were simply not sure if the breach between the two erstwhile partners was final.
For now, the three groups are working together to iron out glitches. “We can stake claim to form a government any time in the next six months” said a leader. The imposition of President’s Rule has to be endorsed by Parliament in the upcoming winter session beginning November 18. “But it will happen sooner than later,” he added.