MAHA DILEMMA …As BJP strikes it rich, NCP legislators at their wits’ end; do not know which horse to back for now

MUMBAI:  A sense of future is what guides a politician when faced with critical times. The legislators of the NCP are in a quandary — whether to back a leader in his sunset years or one who still has some muscles left to play around in politics. Sharad Pawar is nearing age 80 and is not in good health. He is in his sunset phase in politics, though he still retains a lot of hold over the party and over the movers and shakers in Indian politics. He’s not as popular among politicians in Maharashtra. Many leaders at the state level are wary about the old war horse who made several flip flops in politics and yet threw his weight around. 

Ajit Pawar is about 60, some 20 years junior to his uncle, and enjoys clout as the state’s deputy chief minister in the past and in these uncertain times now too. For the many NCP leaders, casting their lot with Ajit Pawar makes more sense — and more so when he is the company of the BJP which is the main national party now. The Congress to which the NCP allied had hit a bad patch. Extrication for it would be difficult. 

It is common knowledge that Ajit Pawar sees Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, a well-known parliamentarian, as a threat. There are strong feelings that Pawar wants to groom Supriya as his political successor, leaving aside his long-time associate Ajit Pawar. At crucial hour, often, uncle Pawar failed to come to his nephew’s support after Supriya was brought into politics. The distrust between these family members is all too pronounced. Yet, the uncle wanted his nephew to keep the party in good shape. Ajit is a taskmaster and unscrupulous too when it comes to winning a game of thorns. Supriya is nothing if she does not have his father to back her. She has less of political energy. 

Rumours were that Sharad Pawar would be willing to support a BJP government if the PM Modi agrees to take Supriya Sule into his cabinet. No such promise, however, came from the PM. Pawar likes to directly deal with Modi — with whom he maintains friendly relations for many years– rather than making a call to BJP chief and home minister Amit Shah.

Sharad Pawar met PM Modi a few days ago in Delhi, and later told the media he did not discuss Maharashtra politics — even in these tumultuous times — but discussed the problems of farmers. Speculations were rife that Pawar would like to be named for the President post. Modi is, obviously, too smart to dangle such a carrot before Pawar. Modi played it safe, apparently. There, after all, are so many rubber stamps around. Why Pawar? And, what would be Rashtrapati Bhavan if a Pawar Play is allowed there!

Also, Modi by his nature is suspicious about anyone around him. He had bitter experiences in the past, since his RSS days, and he knows danger lurks around. Modi also knows how to play safe. 

With the BJP opening a line to the NCP and drew in Ajit Pawar at this crucial juncture, the rest is anybody’s guess. A whole lot of NCP men are keen on joining hands with the BJP, so that they can survive and flourish in politics. The days of the alliance with the Congress is no more an inspiration for the future. 

Now, the NCP legislators are in safe-custody of Sharad Pawar and his close associates. The Supreme Court is likely to ask the governor for a trial of strength in the assembly, which can ultimately decide on the fate of the present CM and deputy CM, and clear the way for a viable new governance system. 

But, this is easier said than done. The Sena-NCP-Congress combine has  majority support in the assembly as per the latest electoral verdict, there is little scope for BJP to indulge in poaching before the first trial of strength in the assembly — for, most of the MLAs of the three party alliance are in captive mode now. This means, there is a possibility of the Karnataka experiment repeating. The largest party in the assembly — the BJP — being robbed of a chance to rule the state and instead a post-poll alliance proves majority support and gets into power. But, a question is, for how long.

Amit Shah as BJP president was lethal. Now he’s more lethal. He has the all-powerful Home ministry with him, and along with this the entire intelligence network and the security apparatus across the country are at his beck and call. If took months for Shah to pull down the Karnataka government, it would only take days for him to demolish a Sena-led government in Maharashtra, given the present permutations and combinations. This is what several NCP legislators are worried about too, by being in the company of Sharad Pawar. 

What if Sharad Pawar goes to Tihar jail, in the context of the huge Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank scam? Pawar’s close aide and former Union minister Praful Patel too is allegedly involved in the PMC affairs. Praful Patel is rumoured to have a line with the PM, which might or might not help him escape jail. The only hope, other than Sharad and Praful, was Ajit Patel to keep up the NCP show. It is here that the BJP struck. Now, in the long-term, the future of NCP politics lies with Ajit Pawar. 

Ajit Pawar has been exonerated from the Rs 70,000crore irrigation scam, in part, on Monday by the Maharashtra anti corruption bureau. This happened just two days after Ajit was sworn in as deputy CM for a new term, as second-in-command for BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis as CM. Ajit Pawar is still not fully out of the case, though, as many more connected cases are under investigation and trial. For now, Ajit Pawar managed to gain a clean chit for himself, at the cost of ditching his very own uncle — the ageing uncle in his twilight years in politics. Ajit Pawar on his own might not be able to pull off a coup; but in the company of the BJP, he can be lethal.

In one shot, perhaps the BJP has neutralized both the Shiv Sena and the NCP — the Congress in the state already a dead horse. IHN-NN


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