It is not without any reason that Sharad Pawar is regarded as a master class in himself when it comes to power politics. The uncertainty created by the fallout between the BJP and its alliance partner, the Shiv Sena, has provided the Maharashtra strongman with a God-sent opportunity, to assert his role in the formation of the next government. The question which remains to be answered is, whether he would push for a Shiv Sena led dispensation supported both by the NCP and the Congress, or strike a deal with the BJP and assist it to retain power.
In the entire game being played out over the past three weeks or more, the Congress appears to be most vulnerable, and could split if its high command does not wake up to the ground realities. The association with the Shiv Sena and the NCP had been stitched up after Pawar was given a go-ahead by the top Congress leadership. However, at the eleventh hour, Rahul Gandhi is understood to have played a spoilsport, and through his aide, Rajiv Satav, despatched a message that supporting a Shiv Sena government would be ideologically inconsistent.
Incensed over Rahul’s intervention, Pawar gave a piece of his mind to the emissaries sent by Sonia Gandhi to Mumbai, to hold parleys with him. He was piqued that negotiations with Uddhav Thackeray and others that had been initiated after obtaining the clearance from the Congress, had reached a dead-end, and he did not need to take political lessons from inexperienced players like Satav, thereby meaning Rahul. Ahmed Patel, Sonia’s principal adviser, attempted to placate him but not before the Governor had recommended President’s Rule, after receiving a second letter from the NCP, that they required more time.
Pawar’s supporters were of the view that the Congress had needlessly played the ideological card, at the behest of a small lobby from Kerala, which had expressed its fears that an alliance with Shiv Sena would adversely impact politics in that state. The Congress, under its present leadership, has never had any qualms about moving away from its core ideology. Why did the Congress first admit Sanjay Nirupam from the Shiv Sena, subsequently making him the Mumbai Congress chief? Why was Narayan Rane lured from the Sena to the grand old party, with an assurance that he would be appointed as the Maharashtra Chief Minister, an undertaking that was never kept? Ironically, Rane’s induction was to checkmate Pawar and his Maratha supremacy. A disgruntled Rane is now with the BJP, and could possibly, at some stage, be a contender for CM-ship. There were no problems when Chhagan Bhujbhal, another import from Shiv Sena, was the deputy CM of a Congress-NCP government.
Speaking of ideology, the Congress high command, till recently relied heavily on Madhusudan Mistry, who originally belonged to the BJP. Similarly, Shankarsinh Vaghela joined the Congress and some years back was projected as its CM face in Gujarat. To begin with, the Shiv Sena was funded by former Congress Chief Minister V.P. Naik. The Shiv Sena was also supportive of the Emergency. Therefore any talk of ideology being violated is totally fallacious.
Thus in this given scenario, Pawar has acquired the upper hand and if it serves his purpose, he could even break the Congress as well. The majority of Congress legislators are already in touch with either Pawar or the BJP and it is a matter of time that if things do not go as they may have visualised, they may look for greener pastures. There is a lobby working within the Congress which wants Prithviraj Chavan to be made one of the two Deputy CMs, if the Shiv Sena acquires the CM’s chair. However, as goes the saying, “there is many a slip between the cup and the lip”.
The stark reality is that the Shiv Sena has sacrificed more than its other potential partners. Its nominee has resigned from the Union Cabinet, and some of the municipalities where it has a hold, are under grave threat. From the Sena’s point of view, its leadership believes that it was in the party’s interest that a severance from the BJP had to be made. The BJP, which, to begin with, was the smaller party of the alliance, grew with such rapidity that in a few years, it would be in a position to make its ideologically compatible partner irrelevant. Thus to accept the BJP as its senior partner, would in the long run, prove suicidal for the Sena.
Pawar is a seasoned politician who can read the signals with complete clarity. He is keen to promote the political career of his daughter, Supriya Sule, and also wants to ensure that his nephew, Ajit Pawar, and close associate Praful Patel’s interests are adequately protected. The two are facing charges of a serious nature, and the Centre can proceed against them without any further notice. He has the Sena negotiating with him for government formation and it would not be surprising if the BJP has also already made certain overtures towards him. The Congress looked up to him during the Assembly polls to provide them with leadership, despite the fact that two former Chief Ministers, Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan are now MLAs.
In 1978, while he was in his 30s, Pawar had outfoxed Indira Gandhi while toppling the Vasant Dada Patil government and becoming the Chief Minister. Once again the key is with him, 41 years later. Between us.