The first week of the Budget session of the state legislature did not prove to be as dramatic as it was expected to be. However, the second week holds much promise for people who have been observing keenly a tacit understanding between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The two are expected to come together in the legislative council where the NCP has decided to unseat the chairman, Shivajirao Deshmukh, who is a senior Congress man.
The NCP’s no-trust motion against Deshmukh will come up for hearing today. The Sharad Pawar-led party, which has the maximum number of members of legislative council (MLCs) in the house, has been eyeing the top job ever since it broke away from the Congress ahead of last year’s Assembly polls.
In their alliance of 15 years, the NCP had its legislator in the Assembly Speaker’s position, while the Congress had its man in the Council’s top seat. These are considered prime posts, though they are given to legislators whom the ruling party is unable to induct in the Cabinet. The occupants get high respect in view of the constitutional powers vested in them.
In the current scenario in the Council, the NCP has the maximum strength, but needs the BJP for reaching the majority mark. NCP has reminded the BJP that it was able win a trust vote in the Assembly four months ago because of its outside support. The BJP is expected to return the favour, though its ally, the Shiv Sena, does not approve of this move. The Congress wants the BJP to support the NCP so it gets yet another opportunity to expose a nexus between the two. It has asked Deshmukh to stay put, knowing well that, if removed, he will become a martyr for the party’s cause. The Congress is prepared to extract political advantage in case the chairman gets sacked for the first time in the history of Maharashtra’s legislature.
NCP boss Sharad Pawar’s kinship with BJP-like parties stems from the fact that the right-wingers had helped him in toppling the Congress government through an alliance known as ‘Pulod’ (Progressive Democratic Front) in 1978. It was a conflation of the parties (Janata Party and left) other than the Congress of Indira Gandhi, who had sacked Pawar immediately after becoming the PM post-emergency. Later, Pawar joined the Congress following Rajiv Gandhi’s amicable approach, but did not spoil his relations with the Janata Party leaders, who later formed the BJP. He split the Congress in 1999, raising the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin. Rapprochement happened again, and Pawar became the Congress’ ally. He remained so till last winter.
Pawar has been politically smart in building bridges with PM Narendra Modi. He helped the BJP survive a minority government last year, until the Shiv Sena made up its mind to join the former ally. Then, he invited Modi to his hometown, Baramati, where the two behaved like true comrades. Modi praised Pawar with the same vigour with which he had attacked the ex-Union minister in the Assembly poll campaign some months ago. For the record, Modi had then appealed to the voters of Baramati to end the Pawar family’s rule. It is another matter that the Pawars continue to hold sway there.
Today’s no-trust move could stretch the NCP-BJP friendship further. Senior BJP leaders had no qualms in telling us that they reserved the right to choose the better option between the NCP and Congress. “We don’t understand the logic behind branding us bad when we side with the NCP, and branding us good if we support the Congress,” said a leader. This sums up the mood in the BJP camp, which also wants to keep the Sena under pressure.
The Sena has been acting more like an opposition, creating political inconvenience for the BJP. And, if the two go on like this, the fight is expected to culminate in a break-up, especially ahead of Mumbai’s civic polls in 2017. Should this happen, the NCP’s role will be interesting to watch. It will also be interesting to see whether the BJP accepts the NCP as a whole, or gets a splinter of it to join government. Similarly, the Sena will be under pressure to keep its flock together if, and when, it decides to quit the BJP government.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day