If sources in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are to be believed, the Sena hopes to fight the 2019 Lok Sabha – and the subsequent Maharashtra Assembly elections – in alliance with the Sharad Pawar-led party. Strategists of the Sena and NCP held meetings to discuss this a couple of months ago.
In her meetings with Sena leaders, including Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had also suggested a broad non-Congress federal front across India. In Maharashtra, that federal front could have comprised the Sena and NCP.
Trinamool and the Sena leaders have communicated with each other regularly ever since the Sena MPs participated in the Banerjee-led march to protest the Narendra Modi government’s demonetisation decision in November 2016.
“It was suggested that instead of aligning with the two national parties – NCP’s alliance with the Congress and the Sena’s with the BJP – the two parties should align with each other,” an NCP source said.
However, NCP chief Pawar nixed suggestions by his party’s second-rung leadership on an alliance with the Sena, and also dissuaded Banerjee from continuing with her efforts to put in shape a ‘federal front’.
Pawar’s daughter and Lok Sabha member Supriya Sule has also unreservedly opposed any move by the party to distance itself from the Congress.
While some in the Opposition ranks have argued for a ‘one-on-one’ fight with the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Amit Shah-led party is hopeful of a ‘third front’ in most of the crucial states that could make it a three-cornered fight.
Pawar, according to NCP sources, saw through the BJP strategy, including the role the Sena played in it, early. He has put his weight behind a Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra, and is also likely to emerge as the key leader to unite Opposition parties in the rest of the country.
That Congress chief Rahul Gandhi went to meet Pawar at his residence in Delhi during the Budget session was a message to all Opposition parties that unity was the need of the hour, and that the Congress president trusted Pawar and sought his guidance.
On Friday, BJP chief Amit Shah seemed to be acknowledging this in his speech in Mumbai. Shah said “Rahul baba”, his description of Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, is getting an “injection” from Pawar. Shah was trying to ridicule Gandhi, but ended up conceding how the Pawar-Gandhi equation had the BJP worried.
The ‘third front’ the BJP is looking at in key states – Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar – has not materialized so far.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have already announced their intent to fight 2019 in an alliance.
There has been speculation of a third front in Bihar, comprising Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United), Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Jan Shakti Party and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Samata Party. However, efforts are on to have Kushwaha and Paswan join the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Congress alliance.
A ‘one-on-one’ fight between the BJP and rest of the Opposition in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar could be bad news for the BJP. UP, with 80 seats, sends the most number of MPs to the Lok Sabha. It is followed by Maharashtra (48) and Bihar (40).