As the political drama has begun in the state of Maharashtra, the Congress party leadership has been under fire from political commentators and supporters for the deliberate delay and reluctance to decide on the government formation in Maharashtra.
Reportedly, the delay by the Congress party in giving a green signal to the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP coalition seems to have given BJP all time to pull off a massive political coup. Apart from the internal rebellion that NCP was facing all along, the inefficiency in the Congress party to take swift and effective decisions seems to have hampered party’s chance to form the government in the state.
The reluctance on part of the Congress party to decide on the issue of government formation began after Sonia Gandhi expressed hesitation to join hands with Shiv Sena claiming that the ‘hardline Hindutva’ views of Sena were contradictory to Congress’s “secular values”. The discussions got held up after Sonia Gandhi got concerned about the impact of such a coalition on the party in other states. However, she was finally persuaded to change her mind by the position taken by state MLAs. There were rumours making rounds that the Congress lobby in Kerala wasn’t too happy with the ‘secular’ Congress joining hands with Shiv Sena.
It was this fear and doubt that protracted negotiations by Congress on forming the government with Shiv Sena. The Congress party from the start kept NCP in the front to talk to Shiv Sena because it did not want to be surprised and left stranded after siding with a ‘hardline Hindutva party’.
The talks formally began first between Congress and NCP and later with Sena. NCP leader Sharad Pawar had initially been quite non-committal on joining hands with Shiv Sena. The focus was on drafting a common minimum programme, with contentious issues like Sena’s demand for a Bharat Ratna for Savarkar being addressed. According to a senior Congress leader, Sonia Gandhi wanted all the issues resolved before formally agreeing to the alliance, including the CMP and the splitting of all posts and portfolios to avoid conflicts later.
Reportedly, Sharad Pawar, anticipating a political coup, had met Sonia Gandhi to discuss the possibility of such a move by the BJP. However, the doubts stayed. Incidentally, the Congress Working Committee discussed these apprehensions at their meeting on November 11 where everyone appeared ready but also suspicious of the Sharad Pawar.
Finally, the Congress party decided to hold talks with the NCP over a ‘common minimum programme’. The CWC met twice in the span of 15 days, which itself is no ordinary matter. The CWC had expressed many reservations on both occasions, on November 11 and November 21, regarding the final modalities of the coalition.
The Congress insisted on inserting “secularism” and “constitution” in the joint declaration of the NCP-Congress-Sena while announcing the coalition. The party even objected to the nomenclature of the alliance – ‘Maha Shiv Aghadi’ suggested by Sena, and they settled for ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’.
As per reports, it was only by November 20 that Congress agreed to be part of the alliance. Then, Congress insistence on the Speaker’s post led to further discussions. NCP and Congress took their own time to negotiate a sweet deal for themselves before zeroing in on Uddhav Thackeray for Chief Minister.
However, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel has denied the allegations of Congress dragging its feet. “This is baseless. Sena’s proposal came to us on November 11 and we came to Mumbai the very next day. All our meetings were on schedule. Finalising coalitions take time.” As Devendra Fadnavis took oath as the CM of the state, Ahmed Patel said that the reason this has happened is not due to delays by Congress but because some people left NCP.