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Pawar has delivered a body blow to Modi-Shah

Last updated on: November 27, 2019 07:57 IST

'For Modi and Shah, the humiliating setback is bigger than the electoral defeats in New Delhi and in Bihar in 2015,' points out Sheela Bhatt.

Sharad Pawar, Uddhav Thackeray and senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge with Nationalist Congress Party, Congress and Shiv Sena MLAs. Photograph: Mitesh Bhuvad/PTI Photo

IMAGE: Sharad Pawar, Uddhav Thackeray and senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge with Nationalist Congress Party, Congress and Shiv Sena MLAs, November 25, 2019. Photograph: Mitesh Bhuvad/PTI Photo
 

The moment belongs to Sharadrao Pawar.

In the chronicle of contemporary Maharashtra politics, Sharad Pawar has risen above anyone else as he navigated the unwieldy just-born alliance of the Nationalist Congress Party-Shiv Sena-Congress and in the process delivered a body blow to the hubris and aura of invincibility created by Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and Home Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah.

Pawar's gambit was assisted by Tuesday's Supreme Court verdict that proved a game-changer in solving the tensions within the Hindu Undivided Pawar Family.

For Modi and Shah, the humiliating setback is bigger than the electoral defeats in New Delhi and in Bihar in 2015. Maharashtra has Mumbai, the Republic's financial capital.

The fall here is sharp because the Bharatiya Janata Party has lost the game that it had won in the people's court along with its pre-poll ally, the Shiv Sena.

The root cause of the defeat is the dispute with its ally. It is a credit to the leaders of the NCP, Shiv Sena and Congress who showed flexibility to join hands without much common ground between them.

The BJP's great gamble to retain power in the state failed completely as in the end it snatched away sympathy too in spite of the mandate to rule the state with the Shiv Sena. The shock and awe that Saturday's dawn swearing-in ceremony created nationally contributed to brewing trouble.

Until Monday evening, the BJP leadership's assessment was that Ajit Pawar, the fallen hero of the Pawar family with a firm grip over NCP grassroots politics, would ensure the backing of enough party MLAs to register a majority for the BJP-led alliance in a floor test.

As soon as the Supreme Court judgment came in on Tuesday afternoon, Ajit Pawar met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and expressed his inability to continue as deputy chief minister.

The Supreme Court judgment was elaborate and direct. It was a reaffirmation of the apex court's ruling on a similar political imbroglio in Karnataka last year with the caveat that macro Constitutional issues of division of power would be taken up at an appropriate time.

Devendra Fadnavis submits his resignation as Maharashtra chief minister to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, November 26, 2019. Photograph: Arun Patil

IMAGE: Devendra Fadnavis, left, submits his resignation as Maharashtra chief minister to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, November 26, 2019. Photograph: Arun Patil

Besides hitting Modi-Shah's standing, the short term impact on national politics will be that anti-BJP fronts will get a psychological advantage in next month's Jharkhand assembly election, in next year's assembly election in Bihar and the assembly election in West Bengal in 2021.

If the new government to be formed in Maharashtra takes off without jolts and even gives a hint of stability, then there could be a metamorphosis in the way we debate the issues of Hindutva, communal and secular politics.

It is very likely that the BJP will now go ballistic on issues of nationalism and the so-called vision of a Hindu Rashtra. It will keep the hybrid Sena-NCP-Congress alliance on its toes quite easily. As soon as the BJP lost face on Tuesday, its spokespersons were on news television screens talking about how Uddhav Thackeray is at Sonia Gandhi's mercy.

"What is anybody's problem if the Congress and NCP try to drag the Sena to the centre of the political spectrum?" asks an NCP leader. "Isn't it in the national interest?"

Importantly, within the BJP there will be questions asked if the decision to form a government merely on the basis of Ajit Pawar's word was wise. Perhaps, BJP leaders could have instead cajoled the senior Pawar even if that would have taken more time.

In its post-dawn wisdom, many BJP leaders now say the NCP-Sena-Congress government should have been allowed to be formed and the BJP should have watched the game as the parties stewed in their juices.

Already, differences have emerged within the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress over the speaker's post. That is why last Friday's crucial meeting between these parties did not conclude, provoking BJP impatience and the consequent overnight political coup, that in retrospect appears to be an act of harakiri for the BJP.

Not only did it lose the mandate to rule, it has also been diminished in the public perception for its undue haste to form a government.

Sources claim that the obvious contradictions of the new alliance have led the Congress to refrain from accepting one of the deputy chief minister's posts -- the other deputy CM will be from the NCP.

The Congress also wants to keep a tight watch on the unknown entity that is the Shiv Sena as well as its ally the NCP inside and outside the government. Two committees will be established to oversee issues between the new-fangled political stable mates.

The Congress has compromised ideologically, but gained in winning the war of nerves at the moment. Without power, its leaders and cadres appeared hopeless and listless, but for now Congress leaders feel they have survived the day.

The NCP has emphatically proved that regional parties have a huge importance in the nation's polity. It also gained from the sub-text of Marathi asmita in the month-long political crisis in Maharashtra.

The Shiv Sena would have been the biggest loser had the unthinkable alliance not been in place. It is a huge leap forward for Uddhav Thackeray. His dream has been realised at the cost of his father Bal Thackeray's fundamental political vision, but that's a story for another day.

Also, it is worth noting that neither Sonia Gandhi nor even Ahmed Patel has allowed any photo-op with Uddhav Thackeray so far. Only now, when the new alliance is sure of winning the reins of power will the Congress-Sena top brass appear in one photo frame. That is the level of sensitivity of this alliance and vulnerability of the new government .

For the BJP, winning West Bengal is the next goal post to recover from Tuesday's debacle in Maharashtra.


Sheela Bhatt, arguably India's finest political journalist, has covered Indian politics for 40 years. You can reach her at news@rediff.co.in

SHEELA BHATT / Rediff.com
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