Is Sena unhappy with Patole’s nomination as state Congress chief?

Shivsena & nana Patole

The Saturday editorial of Samaana, the mouthpiece of Shiv Sena, indicated that all is not well within the ruling Maha-Vikas-Aghadi. The resignation of Nana Patole from the Maharashtra assembly Speaker ahead of his nomination as the state Congress chief a day later has not gone down well with alliance partner Sena.

It was said that the Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray is unhappy with the resignation, while the deputy chief minister and senior NCP leader, Ajit Pawar, said Patole should not have resigned weeks ahead of the assembly’s budget session in March.

Surprisingly, the editorial lauded Balasaheb Thorat’s tenure as the state Congress chief and for steering the party to success when nobody wanted to take up the role. It added that Congress is an “important partner” in the government and that the power has given it a new lease of life in Maharashtra.

The editorial also justified the views of the NCP supremo Sharad Pawar that the three coalition partners will take decision on the Speaker’s post through negotiations now. This has also shown that the Congress is now in a receiving end after the development.

Patole resigned as Speaker earlier this week to take over as state Congress chief even as the Budget session is to start from March 1. The Congress shares power in the state with the Sena and the NCP. The Saamana editorial said the Congress had been given the post of Speaker for five years, and not for forcing an election for the post midway through which should have been avoided. Though organisational changes was an internal matter of the Congress, extra caution is required to ensure the decision does not impact the government, the editorial warned.

On the other hand, in Patole, the Congress seemed to have favoured a more aggressive face, but “excessive aggression is also not good”, the Sena felt and advised him that “restraint” was key to smooth functioning of the three-party government. This also indicated that Sena does not want an aggressive state Congress chief, like Patole in Maharashtra that may confront with Sena and NCP in coming days on its due shares in power.

However, most Congress leaders and party sympathisers in Maharashtra admit that one characteristic that their party lacks in Maharashtra is aggression. Hit by a series of desertions from its ranks before the 2019 state assembly elections, the Congress had almost given up on its chances. Series of unforeseen circumstances saw it being propelled into power as part of the MVA regime in Maharashtra with the Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party. However, there is a perception that it has let itself be bullied by its ally, the NCP, which is steadily encroaching on its turf.

However, in Nana Patole, the Congress has managed to get an aggressive face to head its state unit in Maharashtra. It is expected that Patole’s image as a leader of the other backward community (OBC), which has significant numbers in Vidarbha, will help the Congress regain lost ground from the BJP in the crucial region where it once held undisputed sway.

Patole exemplifies the concept of a permanent rebel in politics, switching sides between the Congress and BJP with ease, while striking out on his own at times. Though change was in the air for a long time in the state Congress due to revenue minister and Patole’s predecessor Balasaheb Thorat holding multiple positions and being a mild leader, what may have swung things Patole’s way may have been his aggression, OBC identity and political location in Vidarbha. Also, other contenders like energy minister Nitin Raut, who is a Dalit from Nagpur, were not eager to relinquish their ministerial posts.

However, as the MPCC chief, Patole will have to wear the proverbial crown of thorns. Apart from keeping ally NCP in check and preventing further erosion of the Congress vote base, Patole must also balance the contradictions of the party’s alliance with erstwhile foe Shiv Sena and more importantly keep his rebellious tendencies in check.

There is big challenges before Patole in coming days and the major one would be to check the Sena and NCP as both the parties are reducing the influence of the century-old party in the state and enhancing their clouts across the state.

The Samaana editorial has also given an indication that the new state Congress chief would not get “required cooperation” from the Sena what a mild-Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat used to get when he was state chief of the party.