Revolts revisited

Updated: Nov 25, 2019, 07:42 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

To look at this week's tamaasha through the prism of the past is a rewarding exercise

Udhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar at YB Chavan Auditorium on Friday, hours before the bombshell swearing-in of Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar as CM and deputy CM of Maharashtra. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Udhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar at YB Chavan Auditorium on Friday, hours before the bombshell swearing-in of Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar as CM and deputy CM of Maharashtra. Pic/Suresh Karkera

Dharmendra JoreLong before 'Modi hai to mumkin hai' became a catchphrase, Sharad Pawar was routinely making the impossible possible. Unpredictability and a knack to turn any tide in his favour have been the marks of his 50-year political career.

In 1978, he engineered Maharashtra's first political coup to become the state's youngest chief minister, aged 38. On his way to the top from then, he has mentored countless young politicians. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls him a political guru. Now, mentor and mentee are at loggerheads over installing a government in Maharashtra. In the process, the disciple is doing to the teacher what the teacher had done to others in the past – breaking families and parties.

The manner in which Ajit Pawar has raised the banner of revolt threatens to rip apart all the safety nets his uncle has so meticulously woven around himself over the years. Saturday's events may have even reminded the indomitable veteran of his past. What Ajit Pawar has now done to his uncle is very similar to what Pawar Sr had done to many a past competitor.

But the NCP boss never tires of reminding people that his past has been a great teacher to him. He insists on knowing how to deal with desertions and emerge like a phoenix. In fact, it is a matter of record that Sharad Pawar has emerged stronger every time he has found himself with his back to the wall.

It is clear that Ajit has taken a plunge into troubled waters and this time he will have to prove he has his uncle's political tact if he is to survive. The easiest way of proving himself is to form and stabilise the two-member government into which he was sworn in on Saturday. But can the NCP flock be convinced to desert 'saheb' and go with 'dada'? This and other questions will be answered this week. Irrespective of how the coming days pan out, this is a great time to remember and understand some previous 'overnight revolts' and defections featuring the Pawars.

The first hurrah
In July 1978, the then 38-year-old Sharad Pawar, who was the state industries and labour minister, swiftly and secretly toppled Vasantdada Patil's Congress (U) government.
Almost everyone was blindsided as Pawar resigned and split the Congress (U) overnight to join with Janata Party, which had BJP's former avatar Jan Sangh, PWP, Bharatiya Lok Dal and independents, and be sworn in as the CM of a khichdi government called Progressive Democratic Front.

The young ambitious Maratha's manoeuvres compromised his mentor and then Deputy PM Yashwantrao Chavan's interests, but he ensured continued cordial ties with his political guru who shielded him when in trouble.

The PDF was an ideological mess with one constituent wanting others out and vice versa. It became increasingly difficult for Pawar to run the show and prevent an exodus of his MLAs to the Congress (I).

The late Indira Gandhi dismissed the government in 1980 after she recorded a landslide Lok Sabha victory following the Janata Party experiment at the Centre. The Janata Party PM Moraraji Desai had made Pawar his pointsperson to garner support for stabilizing his government before he was forced to quit unceremoniously.

Despite this fall from grace, Sharad Pawar became a Maharashtra-based trouble-shooter who found a place of prominence among the country's who's who. Thereafter he never looked back, spending much of his time in the opposition. A call from the late Rajiv Gandhi facilitated his re-entry into the Congress.

Splitting Cong again
Former President Pranab Mukherjee writes his book The Coalition Years: 'Three members of the CWC –Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar – made a statement that no person of foreign origin should be chosen as (party) president, vice-president or Indian prime minister. Ahead of the 1999 elections, there seemed to be an all-out rebellion against the possibility that Sonia Gandhi might be the Congress's prime ministerial candidate.'

Mukherjee further writes, "In my opinion, Sharad Pawar, as the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, expected the party to request him, instead of Sonia Gandhi, to stake claim to form the government. After Sonia's elevation as president, she consulted P Shiv Shankar on all important issues rather than Sharad Pawar. This sense of alienation and disenchantment may have been responsible for his statement on Sonia's foreign origin, and his subsequent exit from the party in 1999.'

The rest is history. Pawar's new NCP contested Lok Sabha and assembly polls in 1999, reaping rich dividends in Maharashtra where the ruling BJP and Shiv Sena couldn't make the state government, because a certain leader of the BJP wanted to be the CM.

Pawar patched up with Sonia and formed a coalition that lasted 15 years before losing to the BJP and Sena in 2014. Five years later, Sonia has given Pawar all powers to get the three-party government in place. Ajit's revolt and the Congress's suspicion of Sharad Pawar are the only two factors that may yet another rise of the phoenix.

The Sena equation
If Sharad Pawar's relation with Sonia appears complicated, his association with the late Bal Thackeray has been full twists and turns. Since its formation, the Sena has often been branded a stooge of the Congress, backing the national party in exchange of a couple of legislative council seats.

Political analyst Prakash Akolkar told mid-day that the late Bal Thackeray had once even announced that the state's future was safe in Pawar's hands. "But then Thackeray embraced Hindutva and started using the choicest abuses for Pawar in his public rallies. The same Sena is now sharing a political platform with Pawar," he said.

Sharad Pawar didn't spare Thackeray either. He got the firebrand Sainik Chhagan Bhujbal into his fold. The OBC leader became an integral part of the NCP and became deputy CM in the Congress-NCP governments.

In fact, Pawar's 1991 machinations might have even inspired his nephew to move secretly to the BJP camp. Then Union defence minister Pawar influenced Bhujbal to break away from the Sena's 52 MLAs. Bhujbal had 18 MLAs, a number that was legitimate as per the anti-defection law of the time.

But most of MLAs returned fearing the aggressive Sena's backlash. Amid fears that Sharad Pawar's designs may fail, the then speaker Madhukar Chaudhari endorsed Bhujbal and company as a separate group so that they could evade the anti-defection law. The Sena cried foul and termed the decision unconstitutional. Ironically, today, the same parties and leaders who were stakeholders in the 'illegal act' are protesting against the BJP.

They say everything is fair in love, war and politics. Yet one shouldn't stop rewinding history for it never fails to show you where 'us and them' stand in the scheme of things.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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