Reading Pawar's wrong'uns
Sena's migration to the side of those who adhere to composite nationalism, a first in Indian politics, could augur a permanent split in the Hindutva fold that affects BJP ideologically and electorally
Sharad Pawar's father-in-law, Sadashiv Shinde, was a leg-spinner who played seven Tests for India and was famous for bowling two types of googlies, one of which was unorthodox. Sujit Mukherjee, in Playing for India, described Shinde's unorthodox wrong'un thus: "Ripped off the top of the third finger, it hastened unexpectedly off the pitch. Its tendency to pitch short nullified its efficacy as secret weapon but was practically unplayable when properly pitched." Shinde died in 1955, of typhoid, at the age of 32.
Sixty-four years later, and just 10 days short of turning 80, Shinde's son-in-law has been landing his wrong'uns on the right spot. He has, over the last two months, deceived the Enforcement Directorate into miscuing its drive; got an overconfident Devendra Fadnavis stumped, and clean bowled Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah before they could gather the support of 40 MLAs to form a Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra.
Even these scalps pale in comparison to Pawar weaning away the Shiv Sena from the Hindutva fold. For the first time in India's political history, a party subscribing to Hindutva has migrated to the side of those who adhere to composite nationalism. The BJP, too, had joined or supported secular coalitions, but it never eschewed Hindutva. Uddhav Thackeray could well tread the same path.
Yet the occurrence of the word secular in the very first sentence of the text of his coalition's common minimum programme suggests a shrinking of the Hindutva ideological umbrella, under which almost all BJP's allies have taken refuge because of political pragmatism. Only the Sena considered Hindutva as a badge of honour. This is why its decision to turn a new leaf places the split in the Hindutva fold in an altogether different category than, say, the departure of Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, in 2012, from the BJP. He damaged the BJP electorally, not ideologically. In Maharashtra, the BJP suffers on both counts.
Pawar's wrong'un was effective because both he and Thackeray faced an existential threat, which almost always trumps ideology. From 2014, Fadnavis had been seeking to remove the Nationalist Congress Party's grip over the cooperative sector, which is its veritable backbone. The mortal threat to Thackeray arose from the BJP's refusal to play second fiddle to the Sena, since 2014. This upended the principle underlying their alliance, by which the Sena was to call the shots in the State and the BJP at the Centre.
The BJP's concerted efforts to cut down Pawar and Thackeray arose from its wish to appropriate as much political space as possible, even at the expense of allies, regardless of whether they subscribe to Hindutva or are willing to fall in line. The BJP's ambition to establish complete domination poses to all political parties an existential challenge, which they will counter through vote-aggregating alliances or a sharp break from past behaviour, as Thackeray did in Maharashtra. Both strategies will necessarily be opportunistic, as survival depends on ideological compromises and exploiting opportunities.
The cliché live and let live is the leitmotif of this opportunism. For instance, Thackeray's demand to have a 50-50 share in power with the BJP sought to resurrect the coalition model based on the principle that 'you (national party) rule the Centre, I (regional party) the State'. Or take Shinde's son-in-law, who bowled the equivalent of a flipper, in response to the Enforcement Directorate's sudden aggression, when he said, "In Maharashtra, we follow the principles of Chhatrapati Shivaji; we won't bow down before the Delhi throne."
Pawar's statement pitted regional and caste pride against the Centre's superior might, which the BJP has employed to homogenise socio-political spaces. His strategy saved his party from decimation. This could persuade political players to construct a coherent regional identity as a bulwark against Hindutva, although such a task is formidable in the Hindi heartland, which lacks a distinct identity.
Pawar has thwarted Modi and Shah's Machiavellian tactics, aka Chanakya-niti, to emerge as the Virat Kohli of Indian politics. At 80, with very little chance of becoming prime minister, he is cut out to become the impartial grand old daddy who could glue the fragmented Opposition and energise it. He has, anyway, invented the model of pugnacious politics for dispirited leaders to follow. Pawar was daunted neither by the desertion from his party, nor by the threats of being hounded by the Enforcement Directorate, nor by the fear of losing, nor by the sledging indulged in by BJP leaders.
His penchant to persistently hit the right spot was captured in that iconic moment of speaking in a downpour. In Satara, they chanted, "Ala re ala kon ala, Modi-Shah cha baap ala (Look who has come, Modi-Shah's dad has come)." Pawar's lesson to Opposition leaders, particularly dynasts such as Rahul Gandhi, is that when down and out, go to the people rather than crib.
The writer is a senior journalist
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