In Maharashtra’s tragicomic drama, Sena gets stabbed before it can stab BJP

Maharashtra, Shiv Sena, BJP, Ajit Pawar, Sharad Pawar, Devendra Fadnavis, NCP, Congress, Uddhav Thackeray, Aditya Thackeray
Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray and his father Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray. Illustration: Prathap Ravishankar

You can accuse Ajit Pawar of running with the Shiv Sena and hunting with the BJP. But, you can’t accuse him of being daft enough to cling to outdated concepts like ideals, loyalties or principles when his own future and freedom is at stake.

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In the end, the simple question facing Ajit Pawar was this: Would he prefer to spend a few months in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail or in a plush chamber of the Mantralaya? For any sensible man facing several probes, as Dushyant Chautala would agree, the answer would have been a no-brainer.

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The junior Pawar has actually tried to kill several birds with one shot. Apart from becoming a partner in the Maharashtra government, ensuring his own freedom, he has also settled the question of the NCP’s future leadership. By aligning with the BJP in spite of protests by his mentor and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, he has taken control of the party that its founder may have bequeathed to his daughter Supriya Sule.

There is a note of caution here, though. Sharad Pawar is currently claiming that his nephew has acted independently, unilaterally and his decision is tantamount to personal betrayal. But, Sharad Pawar’s own conduct during the past few days had not been entirely overboard.

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Bang in the middle of negotiations with the Sena and the Congress, he had met the Prime Minister, ostensibly to discuss the plight of Maharashtra’s farmers. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be easily assumed that farmers were not the only subject of meeting with the PM. On several occasions, when asked by the media about the prospects of an alliance with the Sena, he had spoken in a strange, cryptic language that left everyone deciphering its meaning according to their own convenience. Also, he delayed announcement of support to the Sena, paving the way for the Centre to impose President’s rule in Maharashtra.

Sharad Pawar has been a doyen of flip-flops, a master of realpolitik. In 1978, he had betrayed Indira Gandhi to become the chief minister of Maharashtra. Later, he had walked out of the Congress on the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin, only to become one of her trusted allies in the UPA. In 2014, he had lent support to the BJP for forming the government in Maharashtra. So, Sharad Pawar is known to pursue his own ambitions and interests.

Also read: Maharashtra should teach cagey Cong to buck up and strategise better

The sincerity of his howls of protest against his nephew would now be judged on the basis of his future action. If he stands resolutely with the Sena and the Congress, goes to the court against his nephew’s decision and issues a whip to NCP legislators to vote against the BJP if and when the new government faces a trust motion, he might dispel the belief that he was playing both sides. But, if he throws in the towel, accepts Ajit Pawar’s decision as an inevitability and then, for the sake of the part’s “unity”, becomes a part of the NDA in the future, this would all sound like excellent theatre.

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You can only pity Uddhav Thackeray for being led right up to the chief minister’s chair and then being dumped unceremoniously. But, in a karmic sort of way, he has been rightly backstabbed for trying to stab the BJP after contesting the elections as its partner. The BJP and the NCP have taught the Sena that in the game of thrones, betrayal isn’t the exclusive right of a single family. After all, as the history of Maharashtra tells us, what Afzal Khan can do, Shivaji can do better.

It’s a bit tragicomic to watch the Sena accuse Ajit Pawar of betrayal and the BJP of murdering democracy. But, the truth is, the BJP has surreptitiously pulled off a heist the Sena was planning in broad daylight and made the Thackerays and their spokesperson Sanjay Raut look like losers.

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The Sena’s mettle will be tested over the next few days. During Bal Thackeray’s time, the Sena was the undisputed king of Mumbai. How its leadership reacts to the BJP’s gambit — and how its cadres answer the call — would make or break the career of the Thackerays. If it goes down without a fight, Uddhav would be remembered as the man who frittered away his father’s legacy.

For the Congress there is just one lesson: when you continue being the Hamlet of India, tragedy would keep chasing you. First it took ages to decide if it wants to support the Sena, then it took aeons to strike a power-sharing deal. In a political milieu where the BJP has the will and the capability to break rival parties at the time of its choice, the Congress gave Shah the luxury of time. It’s such a shame that the Congress just doesn’t want to learn from Karnataka, Haryana, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa. It keeps making the same mistakes.

There are, of course, questions of constitutional propriety and Governor’s role at stake. The manner in which President’s rule was imposed in Maharashtra without giving the Sena adequate time to form a government and then revoked with alacrity on the very day Uddhav’s name was announced as the CM by Sharad Pawar, the mechanism of installing a government without going through the rigmarole of ascertaining its stability and the coup d’état feel to the entire thing suggest that the BJP always gets its way through misuse of power.

But, this is the new India where politics is seen as a game where winning is everything. So, instead of sympathising with the Sena, worrying about the impartiality of constitutional institutions, people would just applaud the BJP for snatching power from the grasp of its rivals. The coup, its magnitude, will only embellish Amit Shah’s image as a modern Chanakya who uses saam, daam, danda and bhed to deliver every time.