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'It's an open fight between uncle and nephew'

By ARCHANA MASIH
November 25, 2019 11:55 IST

'Over the years he has been getting a feeling of being sidelined by his uncle.'

Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar, right, with nephew Ajit Pawar, November 3, 2019. Photograph: Saahil Salvi

IMAGE: Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar, right, with nephew Ajit Pawar, November 3, 2019. Photograph: Saahil Salvi
 

"I don't see a tacit understanding between Sharad Pawar and the BJP," Prakash Bal Joshi, the veteran political commentator and artist who has observed Maharashtra politics for over 40 years, tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih.

Do you believe Ajit Pawar's action is the outcome of a family feud within the Pawar family where he felt he was being denied his due -- that his uncle wasn't even asking for chief ministership by rotation with the Shiv Sena, which could have likely made his CM for two-and a-half years?

I don't think it is a very sudden or impromptu decision by Ajit Pawar.

Over the years he has been getting a feeling of being sidelined by his uncle though he has been his right hand man, his operational man for any kind of political activity.

In 2004, when the NCP had more MLAs than the Congress, the NCP could have staked its claim for the chief minister's post (which is the normal adopted formula for any party in pre-poll alliance) but instead, Sharad Pawar decided to keep the more important portfolios and gave the CMship to the Congress.

Ajit Pawar thought he was the right person to stake a claim. But he wasn't made CM and Chhagan Bhujbal got the post.

The recent provocation for Ajit Pawar came with the Sena negotiating with Sharad Pawar.

Initially, it seemed they were ready for the same rotational share of power with the NCP, but during the negotiation which also included the Congress -- either Pawar himself or for whatever circumstances -- the Shiv Sena was assured a five year term of CM.

Ajit Pawar would have wanted that the NCP should have got the CMship for two-and-a-half years. He thought if the Sena was ready to have that arrangement with the BJP, then why not with the NCP?

He and those who were supporting him thought it was a deliberate attempt to sideline Ajit Pawar.

Do you think Sharad Pawar was unwilling to give Ajit Pawar the role of political heir in Maharashtra because it would reduce his daughter Supriya Sule's standing in the NCP?

Initially, their roles were demarcated.

Supriya Sule was content and happy to be in Delhi and she was groomed by Sharad Pawar himself to be an able parliamentarian and to look after the party's stand in Parliament.

Ajit Pawar was the grassroots and operational person in rural Maharashtra and looked after state affairs.

Somewhere in the growth of these two leaders, Ajit Pawar felt neglected and ignored. He felt Supriya Sule was being promoted ahead of him in the state. She also started some organisation for women and girls etc, this lead to some friction, but it remained covered up within the family.

Now it has come out in the open.

Sharad Pawar has disowned what Ajit Pawar is saying about the NCP's alliance with the BJP and providing a stable government to Maharashtra.

Do you believe Sharad Pawar was truly unaware of Ajit Pawar's intentions of allying with the BJP?

Knowing Sharad Pawar's ability for playing power politics, initially people thought he was playing a sort of double game.

It was felt he had a tacit understanding with the BJP after his meeting with Narendra Modi in Delhi.

But as things unfolded after Ajit Pawar took oath with the BJP, Sharad Pawar called a meeting of his party MLAs and also met the Congress and Shiv Sena leaders.

I think now it is an open fight between uncle and nephew.

Like Supriya Sule said it is a split not only in the NCP, but also in the family.

I don't see a tacit understanding between Sharad Pawar and the BJP.

How do you see the political drama playing out in Maharashtra?

It is very unfortunate because ultimately it is going to affect the development in the state.

For example, the metro work in Mumbai city was happening with great speed in the last one-and-a-half years, now there maybe reallocation or re-planning with another alliance in power. This will lead to more delays.

Can Devendra Fadanavis prove his majority? What if he can't? Can the governor dissolve the assembly before the Sena-NCP-Congress can stake its claim?

We have seen in Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh -- no one can verify the number of MLAs who give support -- that is the job of the governor.

Now the issue whether there will be a BJP-NCP government will be sorted out on the floor of the House.

In case they don't get through, then the Sena-NCP-Congress will stake claim and prove their majority.

It is going to be very precarious and we have to see if the governor again declares President's rule or there is a fresh election, but before taking any decision they have to consult Constitutional experts.

Every move is going to be challenged in the Supreme Court.

What surprises you most about the current political situation in the state?

The way the Shiv Sena has walked out of the alliance.

Ideologically they are the most aggressive proponents of Hindutva. Balasaheb (Thackeray) was called Hindu Hridaya Samrat (emperor of Hindu hearts).

Secondly, the way Sharad Pawar has extended a hand to the Sena in trying to achieve power.

In doing so, both parties have exposed themselves. But the NCP has emerged as the worst sufferer because the party has now split.

Do you expect the BJP to poach Shiv Sena/Congress MLAs before the floor test?

In the given scenario every party is vulnerable.

Before the elections, there was an exodus of NCP MLAs to the BJP. The Congress leader of the Opposition himself joined the BJP.

What will stop the MLAs now? Moreover, there is a BJP government at the Centre, so that will be a big factor.

It will be a Herculean task for the Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena to keep its flock together, that's why they are keeping them in a resort or a hotel.

What about the Shiv Sena? Will this bring Uddhav Thackeray's leadership under question?

The question already exists after Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar formed a government. It can be debated whether this government formation is right or wrong.

But it has a political impact on other parties. The Shiv Sena and NCP MLAs, which includes many first timers, must be thinking about their future and are vulnerable.

Can the Shiv Sena see defections from the party if it is unable to form a government?

Some people may break away -- it is possible.

Whoever may form the government in the power struggle, but beyond that Maharashtra politics is now like an open book. Every party will have to redraw its map.

The Shiv Sena has watered down its hardened Hindutva.

The Congress has compromised on its secularism.

The BJP may contest the election on its own.

Similarly, every party will have to redraw its strategy and rethink about their programmes, policies and ideologies.

Do you think Amit Shah was determined to teach the Shiv Sena a lesson so that no ally would take on the BJP in the future?

The BJP central leadership had treated the Sena with kid gloves. Despite their tantrums, they tried to keep the Sena on the right side of the NDA (National Democratic Alliance), but the way things have developed they were forced to form the government with Ajit Pawar.

Why did relations between the Sena and BJP sour so badly?

Even during Balasaheb's time, the BJP was growing on its own because of its own platform and networking with like-minded parties regional parties.

The BJP-Shiv Sena had a cosy alliance -- the BJP would look at the national scene while the Sena would look at Maharashtra.

In 2014 because of the Narendra Modi wave, the BJP emerged as the bigger party. From that time onwards, the Shiv Sena was unhappy with the reduced influence.

It had been different during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government when the BJP did not have a commanding majority.

But in 2014, the BJP had a majority in Parliament on its own so the power equation changed.

The Shiv Sena had lost its negotiating power with the BJP and the Sena somehow could not stomach the fact that the BJP had grown.

Uddhav did not gel well with the Modi-Shah combination.

Even though they were in power with the BJP, they behaved and occupied the Opposition space, making the Congress and NCP almost redundant in the state.

They had the aspiration that in 2019 they can have a chief minister and share power 50-50.

How has Uddhav fared in steering the Shiv Sena?

I would give marks to Uddhav. He had to face the challenge from his cousin Raj Thackeray.

There was fear that Raj would take over the party, but Uddhav showed his leadership quality of welding the party together after Balasaheb and then fighting the election on his own.

In the 2014 election, he got more MLAs than what the party got in Balasaheb's time. That way he showed his mettle.

But in the 2019 post-election scenario where he is willing to join the NCP and Congress, it will be interesting to observe what happens in the Shiv Sena.

They had two basic ideological bases -- the Marathi manoos and strong Hindutva. One will have to see what happens to their support base.

In the coming confrontation between Shard Pawar versus Amit Shah, who do you think will be the winner?

Sharad Pawar appears to be keeping a hold on his party, but we don't know whether it is happening.

We are not aware of what kind of networking Ajit Pawar has done so far.

We don't know what stand the MLAs will be taking on the day of the floor test, or whether they have already been poached and will reveal their cards only on that day. We have to wait and watch.

Sharad Pawar is among the tallest leaders with experience and maturity, but he is rooted only in Maharashtra.

He could not control the whole state. He could not take his party beyond 70, never reached 100 seats, while Amit Shah has shown results in elections in UP and other states and is planning for West Bengal.

It is difficult to compare them both at the state level. Every party is vulnerable and that is why they are guarding their MLAs.

Managing Editor Archana Masih has covered politics of various hues and dimensions in different states of the Indian Union for over 25 years. She can be contacted at archana_masih@rediffmail.com

ARCHANA MASIH / Rediff.com
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