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Maharashtra politics: Who won, who lost

By Aditi Phadnis
December 12, 2019 09:27 IST
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'There's no telling how long this government will last or how cordial the relations between the alliance partners will be in the future.'
'But this election tells us that while constancy and fealty pay, timing is everything,' notes Aditi Phadnis.

IMAGE: Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray at his swearing-in ceremony as Maharashtra chief minister at Shivaji Park in Mumbai on November 28, 2019. Photograph: Mitesh Bhuvad/PTI Photo

There's a saying in Hindi: 'Chaube gaye Chhabbe banane, rah gaye Dube'. It describes a person who tries to overreach himself, and ends up worse off than he was before.

There are many winners in the Maharashtra saga, some who have got much more than they could possibly have hoped for or deserve.

But it is the losers who need to worry.

Narayan Rane was a Shiv Sainik whom Balasaheb himself anointed chief minister: he adored 'Saheb', but could not reconcile to the rise and rise of Uddhav Thackeray.

Rane was responsible for creating and strengthening the Sena in Konkan.

When Uddhav was appointed executive president of Sena, he was deeply disappointed and quit the party in 2005.

So bitter was the parting that although he longed to pay one last visit to see Balasaheb, then on his deathbed, he could not bring himself to do so, fearing the response of the rest of the family.

He joined the Congress, spurning an offer from the Nationalist Congress Party, within six months of leaving the Sena.

He took the oath that he would strive 'for the rest of my life to follow the Congress' ideals and uphold the dignity of the tricolour'.

The terms for his joining the party were he would be made chief minister within six months.

It never happened.

Ten years later, Rane dumped his oath and when approached by Devendra Fadnavis, agreed to join the Bharatiya Janata Party, not realising the offer was no longer on the table -- because the Shiv Sena warned Fadnavis that it would withdraw support to the BJP-Sena government if Rane entered the BJP.

Fadnavis backed off hastily and spurned by his suitor, in 2017, Rane launched his own party, the Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha.

By now Fadnavis was confident enough to stand up to Sena and renewed an invitation to Rane.

Singed once, Rane agreed to be associated with the BJP and accepted a Rajya Sabha seat from the party.

If he had accepted Uddhav's leadership then, where would he have been today?

Ajit Pawar has been chafing at the bit for months and years against the imposition of his uncle Sharad's will on him.

The last time, most recently, was ahead of the Maharashtra assembly election when Ajit wanted the authority to unfurl two flags at the NCP's election rallies -- the party's tricolour and along with that, a saffron flag with Chhatrapati Shivaji's image.

Sharad Pawar publicly shot down the idea, calling it Ajit's personal opinion.

Sharad Pawar assured Ajit he would secure the position of deputy chief minister for him under an Uddhav Thackeray-led government.

But Ajit thought he could outdo his uncle in the deal-making department and went to the BJP with an offer they could not refuse, expecting to land the deputy chief ministership in that camp. (This camp or that. Sannu kee?) And look what happened!

So many left the NCP to join the BJP in search of greener pastures that BJP President Amit Anilchandra Shah chortled that barring Sharad Pawar and Prithviraj Chavan, everyone else was queuing up to join the saffron party.

And where are they now?

Former chief of the Congress's Mumbai unit, Sanjay Nirupam, himself originally from the Shiv Sena, lobbied publicly and strongly against the Congress joining hands with the Sena.

When Fadnavis became chief minister, he could scarcely restrain himself from saying, 'I told you so.'

But the tables were turned very rapidly indeed.

If Nirupam had held his peace then, he might have been something in the Maharashtra government today.

There are others like him.

Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil was treasured by the Congress which made him the leader of the Opposition in the outgoing assembly.

But when his son joined the BJP, the father resigned as MLA and joined the BJP with him.

As Congress leader of the Opposition, he campaigned for the BJP.

His exit left the field free for his Ahmednagar rival in the Congress, Balasaheb Thorat, who MLAs say, has about as much charisma as a turtle.

But it is Thorat who is having the last laugh now.

And the award for the smartest of them all should go to...

Priyanka Chaturvedi, for getting the timing absolutely right.

She quit the Congress where she was spokesperson and the face of the Congress and joined the Shiv Sena just before the Maharashtra election.

And she's now on the winning side!

There's no telling how long this government will last or how cordial the relations between the alliance partners will be in the future.

But this election tells us that while constancy and fealty pay, timing is everything.

Aditi Phadnis covers politics for the Business Standard newspaper.

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