Within a week after the official announcement of alliance between Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) and Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), led by Prakash Ambedkar, differences have cropped up, posing serious question marks before continuation of coalition.
Prakash Ambedkar and Sanjay Raut are engaged in a verbal duel as the former continues to target NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Ambedkar had commented that Sharad Pawar was always with BJP and would remain with BJP. This has irked not only NCP but also Shiv Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut.
NCP leaders did not miss the opportunity to criticise Ambedkar while Raut also suggested restraint while criticising senior leaders like Sharad Pawar. As a result, serious doubts are being raised on accommodation of Ambedkar’s VBA in Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA).
NCP chief Sharad Pawar hinted his resentment against joining hands with Ambedkar saying that negotiations would not take place as there was no official proposal by Ambedkar to join MVA. Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole said that Ambedkar had an alliance with Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena and not with MVA.
Sources in Congress and NCP said that they were upset with Uddhav Thackeray as he did not take them into confidence before announcing a tie-up with Ambedkar. Leaders of both the parties are hurt as Prakash Ambedkar’s views on both the parties are known to Maharashtra. Ambedkar has been pushing a theory for years, arguing how a few families of Congress and NCP were controlling Maharashtra politics.
Sources in Sena said that Uddhav’s decision to have a tie up with Prakash Ambedkar was mainly aimed at municipal elections to Mumbai. Ambedkar has a good following in some Mumbai slums.
Thackeray camp believed that Ambedkar may come as a big help as Mumbai civic election will be the first major electoral test for Uddhav Thackeray after the split. Sena sources said that Prakash Ambedkar has agreed to the pact in lieu of a few seats in the Mumbai election. However, this arrangement is strictly between Uddhav and Prakash Ambedkar while Congress and NCP are no party to it.
A section of Sena leaders is also skeptical about continuation of Thackeray-Ambedkar alliance till the next elections. They point out that Ambedkar has been in active politics for more than four decades but has not been able to build his own party despite carrying the legacy of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. They said that Ambedkar had won Lok Sabha election only once in 1999 from Akola Lok Sabha constituency.
In 2019, Prakash Ambedkar unsuccessfully contested from two Lok Sabha constituencies – Akola and Solapur. In Akola, considered as a bastion of VBA, Ambedkar secured 2,78, 848 votes as against 5,54,444 secured by Sanjay Dhotre of BJP. Ambedkar secured second position in Akola. But in Solapur, Ambedkar was pushed to third position as he secured 1,70,00 votes while Congress’s Sushilkumar Shinde got 3,66,377 votes. BJP’s Dr Sidheshwar Shivacharya Mahaswamiji secured 5,24,985 votes and bagged the seat.
Few Sena leaders highlight that Ambedkar lost from both the seats despite having alliance with Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). Both Akola and Solapur constituencies have a decisive combination of Dalit and Muslim votes but Ambedkar had to face defeat. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Owaisi and Ambedkar, jointly undertook aggressive campaigns, posing serious threat to Congress and NCP.
It is feared in the Sena camp that alliance with Ambedkar would further alienate Hindu vote bank due to the Ambedkar-Owaisi alliance in the previous election. The alliance between VBA and AIMIM was abruptly broken after the election as Ambedkar publicly complained that Muslims did not vote for the alliance while Dalits voted for the alliance.
Ambedkar followers point out that, VBA-AIMIM alliance got 41 lakh votes in the last Lok Sabha election, which came down to 24 lakhs in the Assembly election. Ambedkar has publicly claimed that he was capable of swinging 15 per cent votes, which were capable of changing the election outcome. Political observers feel that Uddhav and Ambedkar alliance was the result of political compulsions as both of them need to expand their support for the next elections. Ambedkar has no friends in Maharashtra while Uddhav camp is handicapped because of the split.
Uddhav’s new move has given yet another stick to Eaknath Shinde and BJP to beat the rival camp. They are highlighting that it is an official departure from Bal Thackeray’s Hindutva ideology.
BJP leaders have raised some embarrassing questions for Prakash Ambedkar by reminding that Shiv Sena had opposed renaming of Marathwada University after Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Secondly, BJP has also drawn attention to Sena’s traditional opposition to caste-based reservation. BJP leader Sudhir Munguntiwar has reminded that Congress had always opposed Dr Babasahen Ambedkar, including his defeats in Lok Sabha election and refusal to acknowledge by conferring Bharat Ratna.
A senior leader of Eaknath Shinde camp said that more Uddhav supporters would join them as traditional Shivsainik does not like the party’s fast departure from Hindutva. He pointed out that Shivsainik was never happy with Uddhav’s decision to join hands with Congress and NCP as both the parties had always adopted anti-Hindutva policies. Sena workers are unhappy as Uddhav did not take any decision, which would protect the party’s traditional vote bank when he was chief minister.
Pointing out that a number of ground level Uddhav supporters were joining Eaknath Shinde, the leader said that Sushma Andhare’s statewide tour has greatly hurt traditional Shivsainik as her speeches are highly anti-Hindutva. “Her speeches are as good as the speech of the leader of tukde tukde gand”, he said. Shinde camp also pointed out that Uddhav camp had declared alliance with Sambhaji Brigade, which is known for anti-Hindutva policies for more than two decades now. Shinde camp has decided to harp on these facts to show how Uddhav has departed from Hindutva in the past three years.
Uddhav camp is also anxious over the massive response to Hindu Aakrosh Morcha, which was taken out in Mumbai on February 5. While all Hindu organizations participated in the march, taken out to press demand for law against love jihad, the Uddhav camp stayed away from it. The Uddhav camp is worried about showing strength without them.