‘Unnecessary’ tie-up — Organiser piece brings out NCP-BJP cadre dynamics as Mahayuti licks its wounds


Mumbai: An opinion piece in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS’s) mouthpiece Organiser, which called the Ajit Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP’s) inclusion in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) “ill-advised”, has caused a flutter in Maharashtra political circles. 

Leaders from the NCP have rushed to reiterate the strength of their alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). NCP’s Praful Patel told reporters Thursday that the “alliance is here to stay and win the next round of elections”. State minister Chhagan Bhujbal, speaking to reporters, rejected the charge that an alliance with his party was even partially responsible for the BJP’s poor showing in Maharashtra, pointing to the BJP’s poor performance in other states.

The Organiser piece, written by RSS leader Ratan Sharda, has however brought out an uncomfortable truth — that BJP cadres and voters in some places could not wholeheartedly accept their traditional arch rival as their ally, analysts say. BJP leaders tried to explain the alliance to the cadres saying it is a political arrangement to bolster Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strength. But, purely in terms of numbers, it turned out to be an alliance that eventually did not yield much gain. The Ajit Pawar-led NCP won just one of the four seats it contested, losing the Pawar family bastion of Baramati, which the BJP has been trying to breach for years, to rival the Sharad Pawar-led NCP.

Speaking to ThePrint, political commentator Pratap Asbe said, “In politics, people understand popular logic. What falls under popular logic? You speak against corruption, people buy it. You put leaders from opposition parties in jail, people buy it. But when you take the same leaders who you have spoken against on your side and make them ministers, that is when cracks appear in this realm of popular logic.”

He added, “For years the BJP has asked its karyakartas to campaign against Ajit Pawar and his colleagues alleging corruption. Now, the party is justifying the tie-up to its cadre as a political alliance. It has no meaning, it is just word play.”

In the opinion piece, Sharda wrote that joining hands with the Ajit Pawar-led NCP was “unnecessary politicking” that actually hurt the BJP’s brand value, and was needless because the BJP and the Shinde-led Shiv Sena had a comfortable majority in the state. 

“BJP supporters were hurt because they had fought against this Congress ideology for years and were persecuted. In a single stroke, BJP reduced its brand value,” he further wrote.

Also Read: Why Amit Shah, more than PM Modi, needs to worry about RSS chief Bhagwat’s message

The alliance with NCP & impact on BJP cadre

In an interview with ThePrint in May, while the Lok Sabha election was still underway, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said “he did not think BJP leaders were unhappy” with the alliance with the Ajit Pawar-led NCP, but that BJP leaders did have some explaining to do to the cadres.

“We had to explain it to our cadre, our voters because we have fought against each other, especially in western Maharashtra, where we were standing against each other. But we explained to our people that the way these people (Congress, Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and Sharad Pawar-led NCP) tried to isolate the PM during the Maha Vikas Aghadi rule, in politics we have to make such alliances,” Fadnavis said.

He added: “I have said this on record that our alliance with the Shiv Sena is an emotional one. Our alliance with the NCP is a political alliance. Maybe ten years later that too will turn emotional, but it is not so today. It is political today. Our voter is smart, he can understand that if Modi ji is to be made PM, we have to show those isolating him that they can’t do that.”

The situation, however, didn’t work out exactly as Fadnavis had thought it might. The Mahayuti, comprising the BJP, the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena and the Ajit Pawar-led NCP, won 17 of Maharashtra’s 48 seats, while the MVA won 30 seats. One seat went to an Independent, former CM Vasantdada Patil’s son, Vishal Patil, who extended his support to the MVA as an associate member of the Congress. 

In western Maharashtra, of the ten seats, the MVA won five, while Mahayuti won four. Independent Vishal Patil won the tenth seat. 

“The opinion that the BJP’s image went down because of the NCP, is more true in urban areas. For example, in Baramati, it was more in Khadakwasla which is a BJP stronghold, RSS den, upper caste. The lead they got here was very little as compared to usual. The BJP voter hasn’t gone away completely because of the allies, which can be seen through the party’s vote share,” said Nitin Birmal, associate professor at Pune’s Dr Ambedkar College of Arts & Commerce.

This time, the BJP contested 28 seats and got 26.18 percent of Maharashtra’s total votes. In 2019, it contested 25 seats and secured a vote share of 27.83 percent.

Birmal however added that as such, neither of the two allies have been much of a value add to the BJP’s prospects. “The Shinde-led Shiv Sena won seven seats, but as such was able to prove its dominance only over the Thane-Kalyan belt. The BJP hasn’t benefitted in Mumbai at all because of Shinde. Similarly, there haven’t been much gains from the alliance with Ajit Pawar. Going forward, heading into assembly elections, the BJP could even think of contesting independently,” he added.

A senior BJP leader who did not wish to be named said that the alliance with Ajit Pawar’s NCP did upset the BJP cadre and voters to a certain extent, but there were also deeper reasons for the BJP’s poor performance in Maharashtra. 

“In many places we did not select candidates that a majority of the cadre wanted to see. We relied on imports such as Ujjwal Nikam instead of promoting original party workers. These are lessons to be learnt for the assembly election,” he said. Nikam, a former public prosecutor famous for sending 26/11 convict Ajmal Kasab to the gallows, lost to Congress’s Varsha Gaikwad from the Mumbai North Central constituency. 

‘Going around same issues will fetch us same result’

NCP Rajya Sabha MP Praful Patel dismissed the Organiser piece as an isolated opinion.

“Any article appearing from a gentleman who may have some reason to be a post holder does not make that person the ultimate responsible person to decide the politics of the alliance in Maharashtra or anywhere else for that matter. By that same yardstick, if the RSS chief has said something, does that mean it is what is happening to the government of India today?” he asked.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had earlier this week spoken about how a “true sevak must not be arrogant” and that elections should not be seen as war.

Bhujbal, who has already made a demand for 80-90 of Maharashtra’s 288 assembly seats for the state polls, questioned the RSS leader Sharda’s opinion by asking why the BJP faced setbacks in places outside Maharashtra.

“The Organiser (the opinion piece) has criticised everyone. It has also questioned why certain Congress leaders were taken into the BJP. Ashok Chavan joined BJP, Milind Deora joined. Overall, what they (the Organiser article) are saying is fine, but I want to say, you are saying this for Maharashtra. What happened in other places in the country?”

Bhujbal also warned leaders of the Mahayuti that the three parties need to start working towards assembly polls and sort out seat-sharing at the earliest.

He said, “Big brother, middle brother, small brother, decide what you want. Pawar saheb (Sharad Pawar) has already started working. His campaign has started. We have to also start our campaign. If we keep going around the same issues, we will face the same result.”

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: ‘Heart has soured’—why UP’s RSS workers are lying low in BJP campaign

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