Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut is expected to meet Congress leader Rahul Gandhi today amid indications that the two parties, part of a coalition in Maharashtra, might be inching towards a wider understanding.
Shiv Sena sources describe the meeting as routine, saying that the Sena leadership often connects with Rahul Gandhi over issues related to the coordination of the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance government in Maharashtra.
Congress sources, however, indicated that the Sena might back the Congress in the state elections early next year.
Though the Sena has negligible presence in some of these states, like Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, the political symbolism of extending support to the Congress speaks to the surprising, newfound proximity of the two ideologically opposed parties who had struggled to come together in the first place.
Some reports suggest the Sena might even join the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) and try to mend the rift between the Congress and Mamata Banerjee, who had dissed the UPA last week on a visit to Mumbai.
The Shiv Sena, a former BJP ally, had strongly defended the Congress from attacks by Mamata Banerjee, who had also met with Sena’s Aaditya Thackeray and NCP leader Sharad Pawar in Mumbai.
In response to Mamata Banerjee’s “what UPA?” remarks — questioning the existence of the Congress-led coalition that was in power between 2004 and 2014 — the Sena wrote a strong rebuttal in its mouthpiece, Saamna, on Sunday.
Pushing Congress out of national politics and creating an opposition grouping parallel to the UPA would only strengthen the BJP and “fascist” forces, the Sena editorial said.
“It is true that Mamata Banerjee finished the Congress, Left and BJP in West Bengal. But keeping Congress out of national politics will amount to strengthening the current fascist forces. It is understandable that (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and his BJP feel that Congress should be wiped out. This is part of their agenda. But it is more dangerous when those fighting against Modi and his ideology think that the Congress should be wiped out,” said the Saamna piece.
The Sena editorial also tackled election strategist Prashant Kishor’s attack on Rahul Gandhi in a tweet that said the Congress’s leadership was not the “divine right” of an individual.
“Who has the divine right to lead the UPA is secondary, first we need to provide an option to the people,” said the party, adding that Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi should come forward to strengthen the UPA.