Ajit Pawar Exit a Blow to MVA but an Opportunity for Congress: 5 Aspects to This

Once called the 'weakest link', Congress has emerged as the most stable constituent of the Maha Vikas Aghadi.

5 min read
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The shift of Maharashtra's Leader of the Opposition Ajit Pawar along with a number of Nationalist Congress Party MLAs has no doubt come as a blow to the Maha Vikas Aghadi.

Though the number of MLAs who have shifted with Ajit Pawar remains unclear, the split does leave the NCP, and as a result the MVA, considerably weaker.

After the Shiv Sena split, the NCP had become the numerically strongest partner in the MVA and it was also the party which brought the Sena and Congress together despite their ideological differences.

From the point of view of national politics, too, it puts the Opposition on the backfoot. After all, a great deal of the national Opposition's calculations were dependent on the MVA's arithmetic in Maharashtra.

However, this also presents an opportunity to the main Opposition party - the Congress. Here's why.


1. Congress Now the Biggest Player in MVA

It is not clear how many of the NCP's 53 MLAs have split from the party. However, it seems highly likely that the NCP's tally would now be below that of the Congress, which is at 45.

Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena was already reduced to 17 after Eknath Shinde's split last year.

Therefore, the Congress is now set to be the biggest player in the Maha Vikas Aghadi, with the largest number of MLAs in the Maharashtra Assembly.

It can now stake claim to the Leader of the Opposition's post but as of now it has let the NCP nominate Sharad Pawar loyalist MLA Jitendra Awhad as the acting Opposition leader.


2. Congress Has Proven Itself as the Most Stable MVA Party

When the MVA was formed in 2019, many observers used to say that the Congress is the weakest link in the alliance. Four years later, the Grand Old Party has proven to be the most stable of the three parties.

None of its 45 MLAs have broken ranks so far, in sharp contrast to the Sena and NCP.

In fact, the Congress increased its tally from 44 to 45 by seizing BJP stronghold Kasba Peth in Pune in a toughly-fought bypoll earlier in 2023.

There have been moments of speculation around the possible exit of top Congress leaders like Ashok Chavan and Balasaheb Thorat but neither of them left.

Even from the national point of view, while the Congress has faced more than its share of setbacks in the past nine years, it has also shown how to revive oneself after defections. This is evident in the manner in which the Congress won Karnataka earlier this year and revived from the Jyotiraditya Scindia-led split in Madhya Pradesh.


3. Pan-Maharashtra Presence

The Congress is the only player in the MVA with a pan-Maharashtra presence. Shiv Sena and NCP have both been historically weak in Vidarbha. They have further been weakened in different regions after their respective splits. Uddhav Thackeray's Sena for instance, has become much more dependent on Mumbai where a majority of its MLAs have stayed loyal.

The NCP has been disproportionately stronger in Western Maharashtra compared to other regions. It remains to be seen what happens to the party organisation in the region after the split, as Ajit Pawar has been calling the shots there for some time now.

The trick for the Congress would now be to project a strong leadership in the state. It will have to balance between state unit president Nana Patole, former chief Balasaheb Thorat and former CM Ashok Chavan, while also giving prominence to younger and promising leaders like Sunil Kedar, Satej 'Bunty' Patil and Praniti Shinde.

4. Base

The Congress has historically had a diverse base in Maharashtra, with strong support from Dalit, Muslim and Maratha voters. However, with time the NCP emerged as the main Maratha party and the Shiv Sena also gaining clout among them.

The splitting of the NCP and the moving away of some of the Sena's Maratha faces now gives an opportunity to the Congress to reclaim its lost support.

However, the opportunity for the Congress goes beyond Maratha voters.

The Maratha domination in the Congress and later the NCP, had allowed the BJP to gain among OBC voters during the 1990s especially under the late Gopinath Munde.


But now, the BJP is trying hard to woo Marathas - a case in point being how it has installed a Maratha CM and now Deputy CM in the state. With Shinde, Pawar and Devendra Fadnavis all being from dominant castes, it gives a chance for the Congress to try and woo OBCs and Dalits.

Despite OBCs driving the BJP to power in Maharashtra, there have been accusations that the party hasn't given them their due.

Senior OBC leader Eknath Khadse has accused the BJP, and especially Devendra Fadnavis of sidelining OBCs. It is to address such allegations that the BJP nominated an OBC Chandrashekhar Bawankule as state president.

However, no doubt there is a vacuum that can still be exploited if the Congress works hard in that direction and promotes a strong OBC leadership.

The same goes for Dalits. The Maratha domination in the NCP and Congress had allowed the BJP, diverse RPI factions and later Prakash Ambedkar's Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi to make inroads in Congress' Dalit base. Now the Congress has a chance to recover its support in this section.

Recently, there has been a revival in Dalit support for the Congress in other states. According to surveys, the party managed to about 60 percent of Dalit votes in the recent Karnataka elections. Surveys suggest a spike in Dalit support for the Congress in Madhya Pradesh as well.


5. Re-Imagining the MVA

The exit of Ajit Pawar now gives the space for re-imagining the MVA. Till now, the NCP had been the fulcrum of the alliance that brought ideological opponents Shiv Sena and Congress together. While NCP, and Sharad Pawar in particular, will continue to play that function, Ajit Pawar's exit now gives the Congress a chance to assume a greater leadership role.

It would need to make extra efforts to keep Uddhav Thackeray on its side. Despite ideological pinpricks, such as on the VD Savarkar issue, Thackeray and the Congress have managed to maintain a cordial equation.

Now with the BJP accused of engineering splits in both the Sena and NCP, it has become a matter of survival for Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar-Supriya Sule to defeat the BJP. For that working with the Congress is the only option.

There's another aspect to re-imagining the MVA and that's related to Prakash Ambedkar's Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi.

Prakash Ambedkar has been a strong critic of the NCP, especially Ajit Pawar and has been predicting for a while now that the party may shift to the BJP. With Ajit Pawar's exit, Ambedkar now stands vindicated.

Ambedkar has in principle agreed for an alliance with Uddhav Thackeray's Sena. He also doesn't have any significant problems with the Congress. It's the NCP that Ambedkar has been against. Partly this is because NCP is seen as strongly promoting dominant caste interests.

With the NCP now weaker, the space for accommodating Prakash Ambedkar's VBA within the MVA now increases. It must be remembered that the VBA had significantly damaged the Congress-NCP alliance in a number of seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. An adjustment with between the MVA and the VBA will be beneficial to both sides.

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