Pawar games begin

Writing in these columns on October 11, virtually on the eve of the recent Assembly election, I had asked, “Will BJP sweep the stakes in Maharashtra?” The question was posited on the thesis that a four-and-a-half (the ‘half’ being Raj Thackeray’s MNS which has since ceased to be relevant) way split in votes would result in a full majority for any of the parties, more so the BJP, the main contender for power in Maharashtra.

In the event, the BJP did sweep the stakes, or sort of, because it fell short of the halfway mark and a simple majority by a yard and more. If the soured relations between the BJP and its oldest ally, the Shiv Sena — that had caused much acrimony during the election campaign were expected to improve after the results were declared, nothing like that happened.

Sharad Pawar has now let it be known that it is not the NCP’s responsibility to ensure the stability of the BJP government. Pic/Getty Images
Sharad Pawar has now let it be known that it is not the NCP’s responsibility to ensure the stability of the BJP government. Pic/Getty Images

Stories abound as to why a rapprochement eluded the erstwhile friends but the bottom line is that the two have not yet come together; a patch-up now appears increasingly difficult though, as the proverb goes, there are no full stops in politics. The two may come together, compelled by reasons beyond their control, on a future date.

Meanwhile, a minority government with majority support (nothing is a contradiction in Indian politics) is now in office. The BJP occupies the Treasury benched in the Assembly while the Shiv Sena is now the designated main Opposition. Otto von Bismarck famously said, “Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Möglichen” the popular translation of which reads, “Politics is the art of the possible.” The NCP, which was the target of the BJP’s vitriolic attack (reciprocated in equal measure), ensured Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis won the trust vote.

“We will offer unconditional support to the BJP… Maharashtra needs stability,” Sharad Pawar’s confidant Praful Patel had said, pledging the NCP’s vote for a minority government immediately after it became clear that though the BJP was way ahead of others, it had not quite won the race for which the only criterion is crossing the halfway mark in the Assembly. Praful Patel was not exaggerating and as much was demonstrated during the trust vote.

But there are no absolutes in politics, neither are there any free meals. Everything comes with a price tag and the fine print of a political deal is often contrary to what the big print says. Altruism is unknown to he who wears the crown as well as he who holds the crown. Barring a few men and women, perhaps no more than four or five, none would know of the details of the deal between the NCP and the BJP. Deniability demands that details must never emerge in the public domain.

We now have an inkling of what the fine print likely agreed upon by both parties could be about. Essentially it would be about unconditional support during the trust vote and the early days of the new government but qualified by the rider that this is not a promise necessarily carved in stone. Just in case this point was lost in transit or translation, Sharad Pawar has now let it be known that it is not the responsibility or task of the NCP to ensure the stability of the BJP government.

That’s reminiscent of Somnath Chatteree’s opening sentence every time he rose to speak in Parliament before he came to occupy the exalted office of the Speaker and then refused to part company with the Congress after the CPI(M) walked out of an extremely rocky relationship that went sour with the signing of the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement. “It’s not the Opposition’s job to help the government,” Somnath Chatterjee would often remind the Treasury benches. That he never did his job of not helping the government is another story to be told another day.

But while Somnath Chatterjee’s bluster never quite shook a government, leave alone resulted in toppling it, Sharad Pawar belongs to another league altogether. He is crafty and cunning; he will do anything to ensure his family enterprise, the NCP, is never out of power even if it is not in government. He would have either asked for a slice of the power cake (in either Mumbai or Delhi if not both places) or extracted a promise that none of his relatives would be prosecuted for their sins of omission and commission.

If the first is true, then the BJP will have to carve out a piece of the power cake for the NCP. The BJP cannot afford the luxury of waiting and watching. If it is not true, then the BJP would still have to act fast before some enthusiastic mantri and his or her santri start poking around the NCP’s closet for skeletons. In brief, no matter which side the coin lands, it’s advantage NCP.

The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta

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