Friday, February 17, 2012

Mumbai poll results puts paid to MNS-Sena merger talks…..

The Congress-NCP lost Mumbai and its neighbourhoods, Thane and Ulhasnagar. These have been won by the Sena-BJP – though they will need support from outside. Had the result been any different and along the lines predicted, the drumbeats for the merger of the MNS with Sena would have become louder. Maybe that would have been a far more politically consequential development than the mere win of Mumbai by the Sena. Now the politics will be driven by a combination of factors – most importantly, basis what’s happened in the other cities.

The Cong-NCP won Pune and its neighborhood township of Pimpri-Chinchwad. The BJP retained Nagpur, though it will need help from others to reach the halfway mark. The Congress retained Solapur and Amravati, though it will need external help too. Nashik and Akola however are badly hung…..While the Sena and BJP are rightfully celebrating their win in Mumbai, the results in the other cities will help understand what happens next to alliances across the state.

One of the possibilties thrown by Bal Thackeray himself just a day before the Mumbai elections was that of the Sena and the MNS merging. Of course, what drove him to make that appeal was a near unanimous prediction that the Sena would be routed in Mumbai. The invitation to Raj Thackeray to join back was not out of any love for him or a change of heart; it was just desperation. Now with the Sena-BJP emerging as the biggest block quite comfortably, it is unlikely that the offer made by the senior Thackeray will stand. There is no way that that offer will be acceptable to Uddhav – the one who was being written off, but who showed clearly what he is capable off. Even if the offer was still open, it would most likely not be acceptable to Raj either – since the fundamental reason for his departure was a power struggle within the Sena with brother Uddhav. That situation has just got worse. Besides, Raj himself has tasted victory, expanding his seats four-fold in Mumbai and emerging as the largest party in Nashik (and ahead of the Congress in Pune). Why should he resile from his position?

There is one more reason why the MNS will not tango with the Sena-BJP. In Nashik, where the MNS is now the biggest party, and where it has worked very hard to develop a following, it will need the support of the Cong-NCP to cross the halfway mark. Together, the three will comfortably hit the halfway mark. Alternatively, the Cong-NCP may not join the government, but may support the MNS from outside in return for favors in Mumbai at a later date.There is also a possibility that the MNS may align only with the NCP in Nashik – in an arrangement similar to the one that the NCP had struck with the BJP-Sena in Pune in 2007 – called the Pune pattern. At that time, the Congress had refused to support the NCP and stayed in the opposition. If this happens now, the MNS-NCP combo will be able to form the government in Nashik with a little external help and the Congress will sit out. But the question is: will the NCP be able to ditch the Congress in Nashik? Or the Congress the NCP? Both scenarios are unlikely since the two parties need each other in the other cities. That is why Ajit Pawar has already issued a statement that the two allies will work together all over Maharashtra.

In the key city of Pune, the NCP has not been able to get the majority on its own. In a 152-seat corporation, it has only 51 of its own; but with the Congress it reaches the magic figure of 79. Instead of the Congress, it could ally with the MNS, especially if it ties up with the MNS in Nashik. However, there are other cities like Amravati and Solapur where the two parties still need each other. Besides, Pune is the bastion of Ajit Pawar – there is no way that he is going to let Pune slip out of his hands. He will want all the support he can stitch together. In short, the Congress-NCP alliance is going to stay, irrespective of all the accusations the two parties may make against each other in Mumbai.

So it appears that the Sena will not merge with the MNS. It’s alliance with the BJP is enough to serve its objectives. In Mumbai, the Sena-BJP cannot ally with the SP because of core ideology reasons. The two parties will count on the support from the amorphous group called “Others”.

What about Akola? Neither the Cong+ nor the Sena+ has managed to get enough seats to form a dispensation. Both groupings will have to count heavily on “Others”. The share of Others is huge – 23 out of 73 seats. Akola will remain hung – and I wouldn’t be surprised if elections have to be held again within a year or so.

So in summary, the Sena-BJP alliance with the help of others will rule Mumbai and its neighborhoods, as well as in Nagpur (4 towns). The Cong-NCP will rule Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Solapur and Amravati (4 towns). The Cong-NCP-MNS combo could get together for Nashik. And in Akola, we could see re-elections in some time.

Now coming to Mumbai. An attempt is being made by the Sena-BJP to portray the results as an indication of the “mood of the public”. That’s what Sushma Swaraj tweeted. Sena politicians are showing the victory as proof that people are actually happy with their governance. That corruption was an issue that hurt the Congress. I beg to differ.

If the “mood” was against the Congress, then why did it win in four out of the ten corporations? Why did it win the clear majority in the recently concluded civic elections all over Maharashtra (the smaller towns) where it in fact routed the Sena-BJP combo?

If “governance” was the issue, then what are we talking about? Anyone who lives in Mumbai knows how this city suffers every single day because of the apathy of its rulers. Whatever the Sena may say, the win in Mumbai is certainly not a stamp of approval on its governance.

If “corruption” was an issue, how come the Cong-NCP combo won in the heart of Kalmadi-land, Pune? Yes, Congress did lose seats in Pune compared to the last time (28 v/s 35 last time), but the decline is more attributable to the NCP’s sustained growth there than corruption. The NCP won 51 seats this time against the 41 in 2007. In fact, the Congress had lost a lot more in the 2007 elections when it declined from 61 seats that it held in 2002. Also, if corruption had been the issue in Pune, then it should have been the BJP that gained, but that’s not the case. The BJP has remained more or less flat. Likewise in Nagpur – the bastion of BJP and RSS – the Congress tally increased from 33 to 41.

The real reason for the Congress loss in Mumbai was the infighting within the NCP and Congress alliance. With public sparring between Sharad Pawar and Prithviraj Chavan there for everyone to see, the morale of the workers downstream was low. Workers of the two parties were not even keen to tie-up together in the first place. It was only Prithviraj Chavan’s belief that the simple act of tying up together would get them a victory that made them do so. In reality, Chavan must now surely realize, mathematics seldom works in politics!

Whatever the reasons, the Congress cannot be a happy unit after the Mumbai results. The larger concern for the party will be its ability to handle its allies. It’s the same story with Mamata as well. Whoever is at fault, the UPA keeps losing. But it’s equally important that the allies think of this matter as well. Mumbai’s loss is as much a loss for the NCP and Sharad Pawar as it is for the Congress and Prithviraj Chavan. It would be the same for Mamata in WB, if she continued in the way she is. It won’t be long before the Left is voted back to power there.

The real truth is that the shock defeat of Mumbai for the Congress-NCP must hurt the two parties badly. They have only themselves to blame; letting go such a low hanging fruit. They need to introspect…..Equally, the results will ensure that the MNS and the Sena stay apart. In the long term, this development has far more important political ramifications…..the Marathi votes will continue to be divided.

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