Pawar politics could see Maharashtra getting Thackeray ‘Sarkar’

Shiv Sena leaders will meet Sharad Pawar in New Delhi on Sunday

Only two factors keep coalition governments alive in India — fear and greed. Smart investors may have noted that these two are the driving forces of the stock markets too, and that’s exactly the point: in the end, both are about maximising returns (greed) and minimising losses (fear).

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Who would understand the dynamics of Indian politics better than Sharad Pawar, the wily Maratha who has his feet in all the right places: business, politics and, of course, the home of India’s Dalal Street? So, using his understanding of the Indian political sutras, insights into the fears, anxieties of desires of the major players and his clout, Pawar has achieved two things that appeared impossible till a few days ago. One, a divorce between old flames BJP and Shiv Sena. Two, an alliance between the Gandhis and the Thackerays, figuratively the snake and mongoose of Maharashtra politics.

On Friday, Pawar announced that the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP alliance will run the government in Maharashtra, assigning to the pre-election bridegroom, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, the task of making prophesies of impending gloom and doom (expected after the Sena’s jilt-and-jolt tactics). But, Pawar has promised a five-year term for the new Sarkar lead by the Thackerays who, incidentally, inspired a Ram Gopal Verma film of the same name.


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The BJP must have been really daft to not understand the Sena’s game in Maharashtra. Because, the Sena played it in full public view for five years with its trenchant criticism of the Narendra Modi government, frequent barbs and bricks at the BJP and occasional bouquets to rivals. With the benefit of hindsight we can say that the Sena was acting in contravention to Winston Churchill’s logic — it was frequently pissing at the BJP from within the NDA tent.

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To be fair to the Sena, it was keeping its options open, just like the BJP had in 2014, when, after a tiff with the Thackerays, it cobbled up a majority with the help of NCP. The Sena learnt its lesson that day — in politics there are no permanent friends and the ultimate goal in a democracy is power, at any cost.

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Remember also that the Sena’s hero is the great Maratha Shivaji (the Shiv in Sena). One of the most famous stories about Shivaji is that of his meeting with arch enemy Afzal Khan who wanted to stab him in the back on the pretext of embracing him. Shivaji went to the meeting wearing tiger’s claws and ripped his rival apart before he could stab him. That’s exactly what has happened in Maharashtra after the election results threw up a hung assembly: the Sena has floored the BJP before Amit Shah could make his trademark moves for setting up a government.

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But, this Afzal Khan-Shivaji episode would not have unfolded if Pawar had not played an active role in the background. Even before the elections, he was in touch with both the Thackerays — he had turned Raj into a vocal critic of the BJP and was a regular advisor to members of Matoshree — and, of course, the Gandhis. His line of communication with the two families ensured both were willing to listen to him when the time was right.

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The Sena was clear in its mind that a Thackeray would enter active politics — Aditya is the first member to have contested polls — and become part of the government. Before the alliance with the BJP for the Assembly polls was finalised, the Sena had dropped hints that Aditya would be its candidate for the top post. But, it remained silent when the BJP hit the trail with Fadnavis as the face of the alliance and the CM candidate.

The result changed everything. One, it convinced both the parties that they would have won more seats had they contested alone, like in 2014, when the two parties had won in 122 and 63 constituencies. Two, it made government-formation impossible without the Sena’s support. (Unlike in 2014 when the BJP needed just a few more legislators after gobbling up the independents and smaller parties).

Pawar convinced the Thackerays that the Sena would benefit if it dumps the BJP in every way: its support base would grow and the family would hold the reins of power and not be the BJP’s sidekick. The Sena agreed to dump the BJP if Pawar promised to get the Congress on board.

Pawar’s has had a chequered history when it comes to the Congress. Rajiv Gandhi kept him at a distance and when Sonia emerged as the top contender to replace Sitaram Kesari as the party chief, Pawar walked out, citing his inability to support a person born outside India. Yet, over the years, the Pawars and Gandhis managed to rebuild ties and trust each other.

Pawar brought the Congress on board by convincing the old guard led by Ahmed Patel and Ashok Gehlot that the party would split if it is not part of the alliance. His claim was vindicated by the state unit whose leaders said almost all the elected members of the legislative party were in favour of the alliance. Fear (of poaching) and greed (of power) finally brought the allies together.

With his deft moves, Pawar has pioneered the concept of ‘reverse brain drain’ in Indian politics. So far, the BJP had been merrily breaking up its rival parties, poaching its members to topple or form governments with a swish of Amit Shah’s wand. Pawar has shown that the BJP too is prone to the ‘greed-and-fear’ syndrome. In the season of betrayals, the BJP would be really nervous about Bihar, Jharkhand and Delhi, where the opposition may strike similar deals if power is within their grasp.