WITHIN A WEEK, SHARAD PAWAR SPEAKS UP, AND WARNS BJP

It was to happen, and was just a matter of time.

It was a typical Sharad Pawar move, and after placing the cards initially, he transitioned to the next stage, stirring the elements of political opportunism to score the brownie points that were envisaged earlier.

Smelling the flavour, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party had announced unconditional support to BJP to form the government in Maharashtra after the assembly poll results on October 19. Though BJP emerged as the largest party, it was 23 seats short of the majority mark in the 288-member assembly and the talks with Shivsena were not making much headway apart from the routine newsmaking noise.

He reiterated his support on November 10, two days before the trust vote on November 12. He said, “We have made our position clear. We want stability. We cannot have elections again. We will ensure that there will be no instability”.

The ‘tacit’ understanding continued to sing the melody on November 12 when BJP played on the tune Pawar had in mind while Congress and Shivsena created din on the ‘murder of democracy’ after BJP won the controversial trust vote by ‘voice vote’.

Though, even after this, the BJP-Shivsena exercise to find a way in out of the logjam continued. But nothing concrete came out and Shivsena, being the second largest party in the assembly with 63 seats, bagged the opposition leader position as the deadline to do so approached.

Now, the ball was perfectly in Sharad Pawar’s court waiting to be played further by his next stroke. And the next stroke came within a week.

Sharad Pawar, the Congress man, who ‘rebelled’, left (or was expelled from) the Congress party, and formed his own political outfit, Nationalist Congress Party, on the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s Italian origin, soon took a comfortably opportunist political U-turn, entered in an alliance with Congress and formed government in Maharashtra in 1999. It is to be seen in the context that Pawar shared good relation with Pramod Mahajan and BJP-Shivsena combine was expecting NCP to join them after the fractured Maharashtra mandate in 1999. Instead, Pawar, in a move that has become trademark of his party’s political opportunism now, decided to go with Congress.

Though the notes were discordant all along the duration of the compromised love affair, from 1999 to 2014 in Maharashtra and from 2004 to 2014 in Delhi, it continued somehow, as long as the power looked within the visible range.

But Pawar and his party kept on playing, tactfully, the discordant notes all along, keeping its senior and parent party on tenterhooks. The NCP-Congress differences and war of words made for countless headlines. Sharad Pawar even issued grave threats to pull back. Also, his party had no reservations in praising Narendra Modi at times and showing positive inclinations towards BJP.

That was the typical political flavour of the times in India, customized and practiced the Sharad Pawar way – playing the good Samaritan of Indian politics – while keeping his eye centrally glued to furthering interests of his family. The corruption allegations against the Pawar family have the potential to open a Pandora’s box that may prove the ultimate nemesis. That has to be handled and warded away. And that requires one to be in ‘some’ position.

When it was written all over that Congress, UPA and NCP-Congress were not going to come back in power, it was logical that Sharad Pawar break away demanding parity in the ticket distribution process or any other reason for that matter. One of the calculations would be that NCP could emerge out as the kingmaker in case of a hung assembly scenario as the BJP-Sena alliance was also broken.

Pawar played his cards. BJP joined the game as it helped the party on dealing with Shivsena on its own terms. On the surface, the party which Narendra Modi named ‘Naturally Corrupt Party’, was not to be an ally. The spectacle of the ‘voice vote’ was to avoid this embarrassment only. It did keep Shivsena in check but it also made NCP the only choice BJP had, to prove the majority of its minority government, to have the leased life for six months, before which the BJP government’s majority cannot be put to test again.

And that placed Sharad Pawar on top. And he remains there, as of now, as the political developments of the moment are.

Shivsena is the principal opposition and Devendra Fadnavis, who raised the irrigation scam issue with central allegations focused on NCP state leadership and who is openly pro-Vidarbha (a separate Vidarbha state from Maharashtra), is heading the minority government of BJP.

Until BJP seals a deal with Shivsena to form an alliance, Sharad Pawar will remain an imperative for Devendra Fadnavis, a position that BJP would like to get away from as soon as possible. But, going by the political equations now, nothing can be said on that front.

And with it, he played his next stroke today.

It was time to flex muscles after BJP acted visibly-politically-detached on NCP’s offer, sending out the message that it was rather NCP’s compulsion to offer support to BJP.

And it came as a direct warning. Playing the good Samaritan, he deliberated on the political developments that BJP and Shivsena were still not able to stitch an alliance, a must for political stability. He said, “If the BJP and Shiv Sena had joined together, there could have been stability. However, that did not happen. If the situation continues like this for the next six months, it will be time for fresh Assembly elections. We are not obliged to ensure stability of the government.”

Within a week, Mr. Pawar has travelled from – We will ensure that there will be no instability. – to – We are not obliged to ensure stability of the government.

So, the onus is now on BJP. NCP has played it part (and its card). It may be just a rhetoric but coming from Sharad Pawar makes in unpredictable. And the possible predictability that BJP may choose to break NCP in case talks with Shivsena break completely and fail finally would certainly be in Sharad Pawar’s mind when he issued the warning.

Let’s see how BJP reads and interprets this warning.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

MAHARASHTRA POLLS: BJP RETAINS RPI(A) EYEING DALIT VOTE SPLIT

As the two main political alliances forming the broad spectrum of the state politics in Maharashtra got over, with NCP quitting the senior partner Congress and BJP walking out of the Combine with Shiv Sena, the rush was to forge new alliances, to retain smaller allies, to find new allies.

Congress immediately announced Samajwadi Party coming on board with it, but a day later we came to know it was a premature announcement.

The BJP-Shiv Sena split saw increased bonhomie between Raj Thackeray and Uddhav Thackeray but there is no definitive word on the political rivals from the Thackeray family coming together.

BJP retained three of the four smaller parties of the Mahayuti, the grand alliance that contested the Lok Sabha elections, Raju Shetti’s Swabhimani Paksh, Mahadev Jankar’s Rashtriya Samaj Party and Vinayak Mete’s Shiv Sangram. These small parties carry significant electoral weight in different regional pockets of Maharashtra.

But the RPI(A)’s stand was not clear. Both, Shiv Sena and BJP, were trying to woo Ramdas Athavale given the significant chunk of Dalit votes in the state.

Dalits are around 12% of the population of the state and have been a traditional vote bank of Congress-NCP.

An alliance with RPI(A), a previous Congress-NCP ally, fragmented the Dalit votes in Western Maharashtra, Marathwada and Mumbai, regions where Dalits are a major electoral force.

The Dalit vote fragmentation led the BJP-Shiv Sena Combine win many seats that it had lost in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

And so there was a rush to win over RPI(A) and the BJP finally won it.

True, there are other Dalit political outfits in Maharashtra including three other factions of Dr. BR Ambedkar’s RPI (led by Dr. Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar), but RPI(A) is the largest one of this divided mess.

And it will certainly help the BJP in diverting more votes away from Congress and NCP, given the fact that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) got 4% of the Dalit votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

AS EXPECTED, MAHARASHTRA’S EXISTING POLITICAL ALLIANCES ARE OVER (FOR NOW)

All this was expected, waiting to happen, and as the time was running out, today was the day, when it had to happen, as the last day of filing nominations for the October 15 Maharashtra assembly election is just on the day after tomorrow, on September 27, a day when prime minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly during his much talked about official America trip.

The four major political parties of Maharashtra, Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena and Bhartiya Janata Party, are going to contest the upcoming assembly polls separately (as of now).

We had two pressers today, by the BJP and the NCP, announcing the split. Representatives of both the parties said they tried hard to save the alliance. Likewise was the reaction from their ’till the last moment’ alliance partners.

The Mahayuti is no longer existent (as of now). The Congress-NCP Combine had its life till today.

Anyway, there is nothing much to read into that. After Congress’ humiliating loss and miserable strength in the Lok Sabha elections and the BJP’s stupendous (and unexpectedly overwhelming) show, it was written all over.

Sharad Pawar had issued warning to its senior partner immediately after the May 16 General Elections results that Congress needed to accept the reality and had to give more space to the NCP now. Though the BJP did not issue such explicit warnings, the messages and the feelers were always sent out. Congress’ two Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra were half of the NCP’s four while the BJP was five seats ahead of Shiv Sena’s 18 MPs. Also, nationally, the party had won majority on its own.

It was also that there were emphatic voices in all the camps against breaking the alliances. The issue being dragged for so long tells us. While writing this, Congress is reacting on with its presser being addressed by the Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan while Shiv Sena is expected to come with its formal response tomorrow.

There are already talks of further alliances and deals. Political theories and hypotheses are going to be the high talking points. But that will be tomorrow onwards (including the possibilities of reversals, if any!).

There were many who, in all the four political outfits, were thinking to test the waters separately after long periods of alliances. NCP-Congress alliance was 15 years old while Shiv Sena-BJP combine has had history of a quarter of Century with it.

Fighting polls together for so many years kept them away from assessing their power and their influence separately on their constituencies across the state. It was hard to say who wielded what influence across the state. It had become difficult for them to assess their situation in terms of real political growth; in terms of gaining and expanding the political ground.

Traditionally, as Congress and Shiv Sena were the senior partners of their respective alliances and had larger presence and a long history in the state, the assessment was not so imperative for them. But it could never have been so with the NCP and the BJP.

Though, the NCP was formed from the breakaway faction of Maharashtra Congress by Sharad Pawar, a major political figure in the state, its beginning was not smooth and the party was forced to join hands with Congress in the very first year, when the Combine had its first government in 1999. The Shiv Sena-BJP Combine has failed to form the government after 1995.

The status quo was maintainable as long as the status remained more or less unchanged – circumstances predicting continuation of the Congress-NCP government.

That was not so this time. Every survey predicted overwhelming victory for the Shiv Sena-BJP combine quoting the Modi Wave being the major factor after BJP emerging with more seats and an impressive performance in the state. The natural corollary to it was the doomed fate for Congress, an electoral rout, like it had in the Lok Sabha elections. So, the senior partners were no longer in the positions to claim their political seniority in the state.

And these equations gave the BJP and the NCP the leveraging power to bargain to have more seats to contest in the elections as well as the aspirations to go solo to assess and realize their own political ground.

As the bargaining could not come with the results expected, the voices advocating the ‘going solo’ mantra grew more and more demanding, and it ultimately got the upper hand today when the BJP and the NCP, one after the other, announced to walk out of their respective coalitions.

So, it’s an open political sky and a free electoral battleground in Maharashtra tomorrow onwards. And it has the potential of throwing in some U-turns.

It’s going to be interesting, for the Pundits, and for the observers.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/