14 November 2019
Mumbai: Congress Interim President Sonia Gandhi is said to be a happy woman, smiling and grinning from ear-to-ear over the latest political developments in Maharashtra.
The unexpected split in Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena has come as a boon to the Maharashtra Congress and its ally, Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party, party sources reveal.
It's well-known that the state Congress has always been a big divided house since years, and also harboured huge differences with its 20-year old ally, the NCP.
Since 1999 to 2014, the Congressmen were either engaged in an in-house crabby battle to pull down each other and simultaneously the NCP, as the latter always seemed to have a political edge, and unwittingly giving a political advantage to the rivals.
Even as late as October, the party-men and party-women were engaged in bitter political skirmishes at all levels, including the powerful Mumbai Congress, which dented its image and with serious repercussions at the hustings both in Lok Sabha and assembly election results.
After the October assembly poll results were announced, the Congress came trumps with 44 seats and NCP with 54 - against 42 and 41 in 2014 respectively - boosting their morale though they were miles away from forming a viable government.
Shortly afterwards, the political landscape changed dramatically with the Shiv Sena splitting from the BJP and the ruling NDA at the centre, and extending a clawy paw to the bewildered Congress-NCP.
As the 'clock' ticked away, the two opposition parties were naturally reluctant to extend their 'hand' of friendship to a party which was not only harshly critical but downright abusive for nearly 53 years, spanning the eras of Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, besides Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
After Sena President Uddhav Thackeray climbed down his pedestal and called Sonia Gandhi for support, shooed away an alleged BJP emissary and Hindutva leader Sambhaji Bhide Guruji, withdrew his sole minister Arvind Sawant from the union cabinet, his intentions became clear.
As the seriousness of the situation unfolded, the Congress-NCP got into the act, presenting an unprecedented picture of unity and camaraderie, and initiated the process of raising a potential tri-partite government with the Sena as the lead partner.
A party leader said Sonia Gandhi was occasionally both amused and bemused to see her warring tribe assuring her in practically one voice that an alliance with the long-perceived enemy Shiv Sena was worth a political gamble to keep BJP at bay.
Though she raised an eyebrow of doubt, the Congress earnestly got down to business, and practically adopted Sharad Pawar as the Mandrake who could perform the unbelievable magic of giving Maharashtra a "Maha Shivghadi" alliance of Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena - in the coming days.
Adopting a magnanimous approach, the 79-year old Pawar also reciprocated by never displaying the NCP's overzealousness in the government formation, keeping the Congress sentiments ahead of his own.
In fact, soon after the election results, Sonia Gandhi had warmly received and congratulated Pawar at her home in New Delhi for almost single-handedly dragging both the allies out of the political muck, when the BJP-Sena squabble over the power-sharing was just breaking out.
The past few days have seen the recently-divorced Sena being grudgingly accepted by Congress-NCP as a potential key ally, many of their leaders visiting the ailing Sena MP Sanjay Raut - the man who set the ball rolling against the BJP - convalescing in hospital, and displayed other gestures of goodwill.
A cheerful Thackeray - who has undergone a change of wardrobe from his awesome collection of 'kurta-pyjamas' to formal shirts-trousers - is seen hopping from one tiresome meeting to another with his newfound future saviours, and hopes to re-establish the Sena's position as the once-dreaded 'Big Brother' in state politics.
After all, it has dawned on him that finally, the time has come for a 'son-rise' even in the Thackeray family!