Until a week ago, when rumours of a possible alliance between Congress and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra began doing the rounds, Congress leaders in Kerala were in denial mode. “There won't be any alliance with Shiv Sena. Ideology is most important for us,” a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party's highest decision-making body, had told Onmanorama. A few other leaders, however, hoped that the party would extend nothing more than external support to Sena, which perpetrates toxic Hindutva ideology.
Leaders were apprehensive of the idea of joining hands with Shiv Sena on the grounds that it would harm the party's image as the largest secular front in the country.
They were also worried about the rival parties, especially the CPM, using the alliance to attack the Congress in the upcoming civic body polls and the assembly elections. Senior leaders from Kerala, including A K Antony and K C Venugopal, reportedly took a stand against the alliance. However, their apprehensions have been set aside as the party bowed to the pressure from its leaders in Maharashtra. Nationalist Congress Party is the third outfit in the coalition. An official announcement on the government formation is expected today.
As the news about the alliance with Sena trickled in, leaders, who had earlier opposed the deal, have not only found an alternative narrative to defend the alliance but also readied some strategy to counter a possible attack from the Left parties for aligning with a Hindutva organisation.
“We don't think there is anything to worry about the alliance with Shiv Sena. It will only be projected as an attempt to keep BJP out of power. Now there is a strain in the relationship between the BJP and Shiv Sena and our strategy is to widen it to the maximum and weaken the NDA,” a Congress MLA in Kerala told Onmanorama on Wednesday.
“It is also important not to let BJP rule an important state like Maharashtra for another term,” he said, while admitting that there were opposing views within the party about the tie-up.
Asked if the alliance could dent the image of Congress in Kerala, he said the people of Kerala sees BJP as the biggest Hindutva force.
Another Congress MLA highlighted the fact that bringing Shiv Sena into the UPA fold would help bringing down NDA's strength in the Rajya Sabha.
Both the leaders said CPM would not raise the Shiv Sena alliance as an issue because the party's ally NCP is part of the Maharashtra alliance. “If the CPM raises alliance with Shiv Sena as an issue, we would challenge them to first drop NCP from the Left Democratic Front (LDF),” an MLA said. NCP, which is part of the ruling LDF in Kerala, has three MLAs. The party also occupies a Cabinet post.
Young Congress MLA V T Balram has been supporting his party's move in Maharashtra since the beginning of the alliance talks. “When there is a rift in the Hindutva front, we should make maximum use of it,” he said.
Muslim League's dilemma
Indian Union Muslim League, one of the strongest allies of Congress in Kerala, is yet to take a stand on the latter's alliance with Shiv Sena though it has certain reservations about the tie-up.
“The Congress is forming the alliance based on a common minimum programme which is only a face-saver. The impact of the alliance on Kerala voters, especially Muslims, will be based on the stand Shiv Sena is going to take on crucial issues. They will have to prove that they have stepped back from their hardcore Hindutva line,” a top leader of the League in Kerala told Onmanorama.
Sena had allied with the Muslim League in the mayoral polls in Mumbai in the 1970s. For this, the Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had also shared stage with Muslim League leader late G M Banatwala at Mastan Talao in Nagpada in South Mumbai.
The League leader told Onmanorama that the recent meeting of Muslim leaders including IUML general secretary P K Kunhalikutty with Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi did not discuss the Maharashtra episode in detail.
Interestingly, the Congress' association with the League in Kerala was used by Congress leaders in Maharashtra to drive their point home on the need to stitch up an alliance with the Shiv Sena. To those who argued against joining Sena because of its communal credentials, Maharshtra Congress leaders reportedly retorted, “Then why are you in an alliance with Muslim League in Kerala?”