So far, only Sharad Pawar

Updated: Jan 13, 2020, 08:11 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

With Uddhav Thackeray walking under the coalition expert's shadow, the MVA government shows deep imprints of the NCP boss

Sharad Pawar
Sharad Pawar

DharmeA three-time Maharashtra chief minister in a political career spanning over five decades, Sharad Pawar has never been in absolute control of the state affairs before the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government came into existence last year. He fought his parent party Congress's 'ji huzoor' culture tooth and nail. When in Congress, his resistance got him shuttling between Mumbai and the national capital. He also spent several years sitting opposite Congress. And yet, he remained relevant and irreplaceable in the scheme of things in Maharashtra and elsewhere in the country. After falling out with the Congress yet again, he formed his own outfit the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) 20 years ago. In 1999, the NCP partnered with the Congress on Pawar's terms, but he did not really enjoy the decisive power in the 20 years that MVA yields him now.

The past three months had a stamp of Pawar politics. It influenced all parties in the fray. The BJP was hit badly and relegated to the Opposition despite being a numero uno. The Sena and Congress were also hit, but they should be recovering once MVA's neonatal ailments get cured even as Pawar uses all his skills to keep scripting, directing and running the show for an unexpectedly long time, because the BJP thinks MVA is a charade that won't exist beyond next winter. "How long will the government last?" ask ministers, MLAs, bureaucrats and politically inclined common people. Interestingly, they also come up with an answer, "Only Sharad Pawar can hold MVA together or break it." This wide perception should act as a catalyst in Pawar's driving force behind MVA, which according to the talks in political circles, might turn Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray into a paper tiger, with NCP boss operating the CM's remote control. Besides administration, the state's policies would also be influenced by Pawar. It started with a crop loan waiver. Other major policies would need some more time to take shape.

Pawar is a negotiator par excellence in coalition politics. He has earned the best portfolios for his tried-and-tested representatives in the government. The Shiv Sena and Congress have realised too late that they were not very serious when negotiations demanded them to be assertive. The imbalance created by the sharing has left many in the Sena and the Congress upset. A couple of days ago, the Congress snatched a department away from the Sena for placating its sulking minister. The Sena has a host of disenchanted ministers and MLAs who cannot be pleased, but are being told that everything will fall in place because they have party boss as the CM. The Sena leaders fear that sharing of state-run corporations and boards would also be skewed in NCP's favour.

Meantime, Pawar is ensuring that MVA gets a friendly administrative backup. Officials in Mantralaya bet that no major transfer in the IAS or IPS would happen without Pawar's approval, leaving the CM a mere signing authority. The ministers' personal staff members are also being selected as per Pawar's guidelines. NCP and Congress ministers have preferred the employees and officers who have worked with them and their former ministerial colleagues in the past. A reluctant Sena is getting suggestions on appointments even though its ministers have made their choices. A reshuffle of Mantralaya mandarins and police top brass across the state is expected sooner or later. Aware of the impediment, the officers interested are lobbying with the NCP loyalists because Pawar is in the process of identifying the babus for heading important departments, state-run infrastructure agencies, corporations, boards and important police units.

Since Sena and Congress leaders also have their picks from the bureaucracy and police, they are worried if their suggestions would pass Pawar's scrutiny. The Sainiks may leave the decision to the CM, but the Congress ministers could be seen asserting themselves when they don't like others interfering in their departments. One such important portfolio is the revenue department, considered state administration's backbone. For Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat, handling relocation of officers and other matters can prove to be a headache as the NCP has said repeatedly that it's a three-party government even if one person heads it and several other individuals control various departments. The fault lines will show when the Sena and Congress remind NCP the same thing when their demands are overruled by Pawar's seasoned ministers.

One such fault line emerged just last week when CM Thackeray held a meeting with head honchos of corporate world. Thackeray did not invite his deputy and 'enfant terrible' Ajit Pawar to the meeting, leaving the NCP camp livid. The resentment was immediately conveyed to the CM with a message that any recurrence wouldn't be taken nicely. Earlier, Thackeray's effort of establishing an unmediated contact with the Congress high command wasn't appreciated because it devalued Pawar's weightage in New Delhi. We will have to wait for some time to see Thackeray ensuring his smooth run even while he stops walking under Pawar's shadow and leads the coalition government from the front.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore
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