The Shiv Sena, NCP, Congress were left with gaping mouths as the BJP ran away with the chief minister’s chair this morning in Maharashtra. The claim of Union Home Minister and BJP president Amit Shah, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and BJP leader in the State Chandrakant Patil was proved correct. The chief minister was finally BJP’s own Devendra Fadnavis. The deputy chief minister is Ajit Pawar, nephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar who is now sulking, most probably for public consumption.
Before Devendra Fadnavis proves the support of a majority in Maharashtra Assembly on 30 November, the strength that Ajit Pawar has brought along is estimated to be between 22 and 30 NCP MLAs. But that’s not all. Because of the ideological about-turn by the Shiv Sena, a chunk of its lawmakers may defect to the BJP. And then there are 19 independent MLAs.
Pawar Sr said that going with the BJP was his nephew’s personal decision. In response, a BJP general secretary said that if the government is formed, some faith must have worked behind it. “Keep watching, the government will run and will prove the majority,” he told Sirf News.
Sharad Pawar may say this decision of Ajit Pawar has nothing to do with the NCP, which is to tell the so-called secular camp he did not ditch them. Sources in the NCP say he conveyed this message to Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray as well as Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her trusted aide Ahmed Patel before tweeting about it. But the close proximity of the uncle and the nephew — and Ajit’s very prominence in politics owing to Sharad Pawar — makes the claim of the NCP patriarch difficult to believe.
But if Sharad Pawar’s tweet is an honest statement, he may recall the first occasion when he had become the youngest chief minister of Maharashtra in July 1978, breaking away from his mentor Yashwant Rao Chavan’s Congress(U) and entering a coalition with the Janata Party. Pawar Sr may draw solace from the fact that Ajit Pawar is following in his footsteps. Before his own extended family, the Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh had taken a leaf out of his book to see Akhilesh bypass his father Mulayam Singh to become the national president of the Samajwadi Party. Subterfuge has always been the flavour of politics, after all.
At the cost of sounding repetitive, though, it must be said that betrayal is probably not what has happened. Consider the other sulking character. Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut says that till late last night, Ajit Pawar was participating in meetings for formation of a government under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray, where Ajit would have got the post of a deputy chief minister anyway (the other deputy being INC’s Balasaheb Thorat). Raut says Ajit Pawar was with the NCP, seen in almost all the meetings.
But Raut adds that Ajit Pawar was not in his elements during the meetings yesterday, appearing distracted. Then, this morning, Pawar Jr reaches Raj Bhavan to take oath as the deputy chief minister! If this took Raut by surprise, why did his party and the INC not get their acts together despite two giveaways? One, Sharad Pawar meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 20 November; two, the prime minister praising the NCP profusely in his opening address at the winter session of Parliament. With the BJP having 105 seats, it was always easier to form a BJP-led government than forming a coalition of three parties with 56 (Shiv Sena), 54 (NCP) and 46 (INC) MLAs. Yet they wasted precious time in one meeting after another, even letting the media know the timeframe they were working on: Letting Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari return from a function at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on 22 and 23 November, telling him their intent of forming the next government and finally forming it lazily in one idyllic morning in December. In politics, that was a criminally laidback attitude.
It is, in fact, strange that the INC behaved in a manner that was quite in contrast to its alacrity to be the first to seize the opportunity of forming the Karnataka government. If it was ideologically not as easy to team up with the Shiv Sena as it was to align with the JD(S), Sonia Gandhi could have put her foot down the very day the proposal was made. That could have, if nothing else, endeared the country’s oldest party to its constituency.
The third theory after Sharad Pawar’s truth or artifice is Ajit Pawar’s apprehension that Supriya Sule would be promoted at his expense in a dispensation controlled by his uncle. If this was the factor for Ajit’s ‘treachery’, read it with the statement that a senior leader of the BJP gave us when Sirf News got a whiff of a BJP-NCP government. The source had said it was unlikely Prime Minister Modi would accept all the demands of the NCP. The dropping of charges against Sharad Pawar (cooperative bank scam) and Praful Patel (the Iqbal Mirchi connection) would dent the image of an anti-corruption crusader that Modi has acquired, the BJP leader had feared. Further, 2022 being too distant in the political scheme of things, neither Modi nor Pawar Sr would bank on an assurance that the NCP head would be made Ram Nath Kovind’s successor, the next President of India. In this scenario, at least temporarily Ajit would emerge a key player to outflank his uncle with the hope that the coalition with BJP would keep at bay charges of involvement in the irrigation scam he himself faces. If this was how it happened, the Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP, the Shiv Sena and the INC missed another tell-tale sign.
Not long after Sharad Pawar said on Friday that a Shiv Sena-NCP-INC government in Maharashtra was certain, Governor Koshyari decided to drop from his itinerary the meeting of governors in Rashtrapati Bhavan slated for today. But even as the story of Fadnavis’s swearing-in broke this morning, the ilk of Raut was rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Even a supposedly suave Abhishek Manu Singhvi initially thought this was “fake news”.
Amidst the tedious drama of meetings of Shiv Sena, NCP and INC galore, the deft moves of the BJP leadership cannot be overemphasised. To begin with, after Fadnavis contradicted Uddhav Thackeray twice over the 50% power-sharing claim, he retreated to a cocoon, making the media, always attracted by noise, move its gaze towards the rival camps. That helped the BJP work stealthily for government formation.
The BJP may still need 18 MLAs if Ajit Pawar has brought along only 22, but you will see only a superficial section of the media say that the numbers could come only from 19 independent MLAs in the State. No, they will come in parts from all the other parties, too. With that will come the time to write the epitaph of Shiv Sena. Uddhav will wish he hadn’t pushed the chief ministerial candidacy of his son Aaditya Thackeray so hard with the BJP a month ago. The fall of the party that was ready to drop the demand of conferring Bharat Ratna on Veer Savarkar, to re-introduce Muslim reservation in the State and also to omit the word “Shiva” from the name of the proposed alliance with NCP and INC will not quite make the soul of Balasahev Thackeray unhappy.