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It will take Manohar Joshi a masterstroke to come back

By Aditi Phadnis
October 26, 2013 11:41 IST
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The septuagenarian politician, once the right hand man of Bal Thackeray, is now battling irrelevance in a Balasaheb-less Shiv Sena

He is being described as the L K Advani of the Shiv Sena. Fighting what is probably the last political battle of his life, veteran politician and former Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi represents the eternal dilemma faced by all politicians: what do you do when you get old and irrelevant?

Some have spared themselves that agony. Both Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde have said they will not fight the next Lok Sabha elections. They are not the sort of people who will buckle under popular demand and change their mind. Former oil minister Murli Deora gave up his ministership for his son Milind. But there are others who will not throw in the towel. Joshi is one of them.

Politicians tend not to age well. And while superficially, the enabling environment suggests age is a valued and much-sought attribute (look around you -- the average age of the Union Cabinet is 65 plus), there are just so many stories of aged politicians being virtually escorted to retirement: starting with Virendra Patil who would not give up the chief ministership of Karnataka despite a stroke and had to be replaced in brutal surgery by Rajiv Gandhi; to Kamlapati Tripathi who became a pain in the neck for the Congress in his last days, writing letter after letter to Rajiv Gandhi with helpful hints on how to run the party, while quietly releasing them to reporters even before they reached him; to the ignominy faced by George Fernandes in the Samata Party/Janata Dal United… it is hard to suppress a shudder at the loss of dignity.

Manohar Joshi, 75, once the right hand man of Bal Thackeray, is now battling irrelevance in a Balasaheb-less Shiv Sena. He is suffering a double handicap: also not present is his other big mentor, slain BJP leader Pramod Mahajan.

Joshi has held every important job possible: Mumbai mayor, Maharashtra chief minister, Lok Sabha speaker. Now, he's worried enough about not getting a party nomination from Maharashtra to call on Pawar to complain about the way he's being treated by his party.

But let's back up a minute: it is hardly a secret that the distance between Shiv Sena and Manohar Joshi has been growing since Balasaheb fell ill. But things touched rock bottom when Joshi virtually declared that he didn't think the Shiv Sena under Uddhav Thackeray had the bottle to win elections in Maharashtra and told his supporters to look for other avenues.

Uddhav, who was battling demons of his own, filed Joshi's comments away for future reference. He gave back in full measure: at a two-hour meeting with Joshi recently, it was conveyed to him that he might not get any of the three seats he wants: south central Mumbai or Dadar, extending to Dharavi, his traditional seat; Thane or Kalyan.

This was followed up by an editorial in Saamna that was a lesson for Shiv Sainiks generally: karmanye vadhikarste ma phaleshu kadachana (you have the right to do your duty; not the right to lay claim to the fruit).

Reading the signals, Joshi went to meet Pawar. Six clear Rajya Sabha seats will be vacant from Maharashtra in February. The seventh will need the Nationalist Congress Party's assistance. Look at the way they're treating me, Joshi told Pawar, while telling the world he met him for help in his election to the Board Of Control For Cricket In India. Pawar must have given him some reason to hope, for now he appears to be ready to take on the world.

The fact is, there are not that many avenues left for Joshi now. He cannot leave the Shiv Sena for the NCP: Chhagan Bhujbal is sitting there waiting to return all the humiliations heaped on him in the past.

Nor can he go to the Congress: Narayan Rane, his former bete noire and rival, has already got the knives out. And now, supporters of veterans in the Shiv Sena like Madhukar Sarpotdar and Sudhir Joshi, all colleagues whom Joshi undercut systematically, can only recall past history to build up a case against Joshi.

Actually, it is a bit of a myth that Joshi had Balasaheb's patronage. It was in fact Mahajan who brokered a tie-up between the BJP and Shiv Sena, who had a direct line to Balasaheb and lobbied for Joshi, whether it was for his elevation as chief minister or speaker. Now, Mahajan is not there either.

It will take Joshi a masterstroke to extricate himself from the situation. For fear of being seen as interfering in the affairs of an ally, the BJP is not speaking up for him. Most in Sena think he's getting what he deserves.

The only question remaining is the balance of power in south central Mumbai and which party it will favour -- the Congress or the Sena or the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

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Aditi Phadnis
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