Sharad Pawar: The return of the Maratha strongman to form
New Delhi/Mumbai: NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, who scripted the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress regime, reached the Trident Hotel on Tuesday amidst cheers from workers of all the three parties, though having being written off by political analysts ahead of the crucial Maharashtra Assembly elections after his party’s lacklustre performance in the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year.
Despite the momentary setback of nephew Ajit Pawar’s abortive rebellion, Sharad Pawar has emerged the winner in the political game, which was changing its course every minute. He has successfully enthroned Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray as Chief Minister with much manoeuvring.
The path was not easy at it seems now – Pawar had pushed for a rotational Chief Minister in the State but the Shiv Sena insisted on a full five-year term. Then Uddhav Thackeray’s nominees for CM also found no takers, including name of his son and first-time MLA, Aditya Thackeray.
In this entire episode, Pawar kept the suspense on till Friday when he announced Uddhav Thackeray will lead the coalition. Before that, he was intentionally evasive, saying at one time that he doesn’t know who will form the government, and then on another occasion, saying the (then) BJP-Shiv Sena alliance had got a mandate to form the government. Meanwhile, as the Sena, the Congress and his NCP were reaching the final stage on the Common Minimum Programme, Pawar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in presence of Home Minister Amit Shah and what transpired between them is not known.
As the three parties agreed on Friday that Uddhav Thackeray will be the Chief Minister, NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said that “Pawar Sahab has defeated the Chanakya of modern Indian politics”, in a jibe at BJP chief and Home Minister Amit Shah. Though Ajit Pawar’s shock defection revealed on Saturday morning could have challenged Malik’s praise, Pawar kept his cool and managed to quell the high-voltage revolt, proving he is a seasoned political operator.
Throwing a challenge to the BJP, he said “Maharashtra is not Goa, Manipur or Arunachal Pradesh or Karnataka” and went on to prove his words.
Within three days of the revolt, he not only managed to keep his flock together but succeeded in getting Ajit Pawar to resign, causing the fall of the less than four-day old Devendra Fadnavis government. Almost all MLAs of the NCP are in the Pawar fold, leaving Ajit Pawar isolated.
Sharad Pawar, who first became Maharashtra Chief Minister in 1978 — after some deft political manoeuvres — at the age of 38 has proved he is still at the centre of Maharashtra politics. Thrice Chief Minister and Union minister many times, he successfully steered the NCP though it became a marginal player, both at the Centre and in the State, after the UPA lost the 2014 general elections and the Maharashtra Assembly elections.
During the October Assembly elections also, many leaders left the NCP, including close aide Ganesh Naik, but the 79-year old Maratha leader campaigned vigorously.
At one meeting in Satara, Pawar stood drenched on the podium to address party workers in heavy rain, refusing to take an umbrella saying he cannot do it as his party workers are also braving the rain. The 40-minute speech in Satara led to the defeat of the descendant of Shivaji, Udyan Raje Bhonsle, who had switched from the NCP to the BJP just ahead of elections.
When Pawar’s name came up in the ED investigation in a money laundering case, he made it an election agenda and turned the tide against the BJP, saying “a Maratha never bows to Delhi and even Shivaji, the great Maratha ruler, never bowed to the rulers of Delhi” and went to ED office without even a notice.
After October 24 when the results were announced and trouble sprang between pre-poll allies BJP and Shiv Sena, Pawar was in the thick of things, from meeting Shiv Sena leaders midway on the road to meeting Uddhav Thackeray in Hotel Trident and monitoring all political activity in a bid to return to the centrestage.
In Delhi, he met Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi twice to take her consent in the government formation. His house 6, Janpath in Lutyens’ Delhi had been at the centre of hectic political activity for the last few days.
When the common minimum programme was discussed and agreed in Delhi, the focus shifted to Pawar’s Mumbai residence, Silver Oak, from where he anchored the activities bringing once-foe Sena together to stitch the most difficult alliance.