The senior Pawar and his daughter claimed that there was a split in both the family and the party and Ajit Pawar extended support to BJP without the approval of the NCP president.

 

NEW DELHI: The jury is out in Maharashtra as to ascertain who out of the two, Sharad Pawar or his nephew, Ajit, was the real Machiavelli, after on Saturday the Governor administered the oath of office to Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar at the Raj Bhavan. The move came hours after it appeared evident that the contours of the new dispensation were in place, and the Shiv Sena, along with the NCP and the Congress, would shortly be staking a claim. Sharad Pawar, who had announced that Uddhav Thackeray was to be the Chief Minister nominee of the newly formed alliance, addressed a press conference jointly, with the Shiv Sena chief feigning complete ignorance about Ajit Pawar’s volte-face.

The senior Pawar and his politician daughter, Supriya Sule, in the morning claimed that there had been a split in both the family and the party, and Ajit had unauthorisedly extended support to the BJP, without the approval of the NCP president. The Congress delegation, which had gone to Mumbai for the final rounds of talks, was caught on the wrong foot, and tried to ensure that the party remained intact. Senior leader Ahmed Patel questioned the Governor’s role, stating that the Congress would challenge the decision of inviting the BJP both politically and legally. He urged his party supporters to wait till 30 November when Fadnavis would be taking the floor test, predicting that it would be all over by then. The Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress would form the government, he added.

Ridiculing the alliance between the Congress and the Shiv Sena, the BJP leadership has maintained that Ajit Pawar had given the names of all the 54 MLAs, who had agreed to support Fadnavis. However, leaders close to Sharad Pawar maintained that only four MLAs were allied with Ajit, and by this evening many of them might return.

The unfolding drama, both stunned and unfounded everyone since the daily newspapers carried news items in bold letters describing Uddhav Thackeray as the next CM, while in the morning, TV channels showed live visuals of Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar being sworn in by Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari. The deception-game, played over the weekend by some of the key players, contributed to the confusing and conflicting scenario with very few political pundits willing to believe that Ajit Pawar had acted against the wishes of his uncle. The prevalent view is that the Maharashtra blueprint was scripted by the senior Pawar whose “signature moves” were reflected in the entire exercise.

There were others who maintained that after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a closed door meeting with Sharad Pawar earlier in the week, it was clear that the Maharashtra strongman had been given certain definitive assurances. During the 250th session of the Rajya Sabha, Modi once again showered praises on both the NCP and the BJD for their exemplary conduct in Parliament. Sharad Pawar has been disquieted and ill at ease about the ongoing investigations against his colleague, Praful Patel and Ajit Pawar, and also concerned on how to establish his daughter as a front-ranking leader from the state. If indeed he played a role in the midnight coup, these concerns may have been adequately addressed. It was speculated that during the course of the week, some meetings between those close to Pawar and several key leaders of the BJP had taken place in Lutyens Delhi.

All along, the baffling question was that for more than a fortnight, both Modi and Amit Shah maintained absolute silence on what was happening in the country’s richest, and politically, the second most significant state. It is quite clear that both of them are also political leaders who have outdone themselves, and must have planned their moves meticulously, so as to ensure that Maharashtra did not slip out of the BJP’s hands. Evidence of their behind the scenes manoeuvring was for everyone to see when Fadnavis was sworn in on Saturday morning along with Ajit.

The questions that are bound to be raised would largely pertain to the Governor’s over-willingness to revoke Presidents’ Rule and swear in a popular government. How was it that the President’s order got revoked in an instant and without a meeting of the Union Cabinet, is a point likely to be raised by the opposing parties.

If in actuality Sharad Pawar engineered the plot, hatching a conspiracy with the BJP, he must have had several reasons to do so, besides protecting the interests of those who were close to him. Once his party enters into a power sharing arrangement, which has shades of what happened in Karnataka, when H.D. Kumaraswamy joined hands with the BJP to form government, with his father H.D. Deve Gowda distancing himself from the operation, Pawar will be back in the game. During the five years of the BJP-Shiv Sena rule, the Pawars had no access to information and government files because the bureaucracy had stopped cooperating. Now, with Ajit in the government, that vital passport of access would be restored and he would keep out key Shiv Sena dissidents from joining the BJP-led coalition. Another important factor that could have possibly crossed senior Pawar’s mind, as per the speculation doing the rounds, would be, that if Uddhav became the Chief Minister, he would emerge as the supreme leader of Maharashtra in place of Pawar himself.

During the negotiations with the Congress, Pawar had been extremely uncomfortable, when after giving a go-ahead signal to hold a dialogue with the Shiv Sena, Sonia Gandhi temporarily halted the process following intervention by Rahul Gandhi that such an arrangement would ideologically affect the Congress. Subsequently, when she gave the green signal, she herself did not meet Uddhav Thackeray personally, but extended support to him through emissaries, such as Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge and K.C. Venugopal. This reluctance and disinclination to meet Uddhav was interpreted as a strategy by her to distance herself from the alliance, thus enjoying the veto power, to pull the plug, whenever an opportune moment arose. Pawar would not have allowed this to happen, since the Congress is the most vulnerable out of the three parties and thus could easily collapse.

However, the Maharashtra rigmarole has assorted dimensions as well. The majority of NCP MLAs who have come out victorious are anti-BJP and represent constituencies which have a sizable minority and backward vote shares. For them to go with the BJP would be putting their future political career at stake. Pawar himself, during the campaign, had declared that till the very end he would work against the BJP since people of Maharashtra had reposed their faith in him. In his entire camp, barring Praful Patel and Ajit Pawar, there was hardly anyone else who would have benefited by drifting towards the saffron brigade.

On its part, the Shiv Sena is being projected by the media as the biggest loser, which it may or may not be. There is an undercurrent of sympathy for Uddhav Thackeray and by playing the victim he could consolidate his support base. The Sena has primarily been interested in retaining its hold over cash-rich municipal bodies which lends to its strength in the state. In the latest instance, Uddhav may make this betrayal, both by the BJP and the NCP, as his USP, thus bouncing briskly back in politics. This screenplay scripted by the miscalculation may lead to the weakening of the organisation, founded by his late father, Balasaheb Thackeray, allowing other forces to occupy its political space.

What is obvious is that the Maharashtra saga has not ended. Many more unexpected developments may change the course of politics. Pawar, in the process, may have toppled many carts but it is Modi who must be having the last laugh.

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