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Virendra Kapoor

Maharashtra: a clueless coup which denuded Congress of secularist pretensions

The wily old fox Sharad Pawar was outsmarted by nephew and new Deputy CM Ajit Pawar. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. Well, in Maharashtra there is only one clear winner. And all others are losers. Amit Shah has not only outfoxed that wily old warrior Sharad Pawar, but he has also left in tatters the secularist pretensions of the Sonia Gandhi Congress. For the pursuit of power, everyone was willing to get in bed with everyone else.

At the end of the feverish month-long drama, it was the BJP, betrayed by its pre-election ally, which has had the last laugh. The Saturday morning coup in Maharashtra has ended with the BJP getting a bona-fide secular partner in the Ajit Pawar-led NCP while the self-avowedly secular Congress has a brand new ally in the rabidly Hinduwadi Shiv Sena.

Oh boy, what a coup the BJP pulled off without anyone having the thinnest of clues. Pulling the rug from under the feet of Pawar, Sonia and Uddhav Thackeray was no easy feat. Pokhran-like secrecy was maintained till the moment when Governor B S Koshiyari swore in Devendra Fadnavis as Chief Minister and his new ally, Ajit Pawar as Deputy Chief Minister. The Sonia-Sharad-Uddhav trio can now do no better than wipe the egg from their faces and shout betrayal from housetops. Ironical that they should first instigate the original betrayer in this game of one-upmanship to desert his 30-year-old partner and then complain of betrayal. Serves them right, isn’t it?

Given Sharad Pawar’s inscrutable ways, it is hard to believe he was not in with his nephew Ajit on the eventual denouement that unfolded in the Mumbai Raj Bhawan early on Saturday, while Uddhav still in bed was dreaming of the composition of his ministry. Poor Sanjay Raut! The former newspaper clerk had played such a stellar role in destabilizing the State politics that he now saw success in his grasp when far more skilful players left him and his boss, Uddhavji, stranded in market-square. Passersby were hard put to suppress smirking at their woebegone state. Just deserts for those who got too big for their boots. 50: 50 power-sharing demand was bogus when you have got half the numbers the senior partner has won.

Curiously, Sharad Pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule, MP, tweeted that there was a split in the family and the party. If true, the nephew has beaten the uncle in actually controlling the party which the latter had founded. Ajit now has an additional advantage should there be a split in the 54-member NCP group in the Assembly. As deputy chief minister he can dangle the carrot of ministership to the fence-sitting MLAs. Besides, Sharad Pawar’s age and his failing health are against him. Maybe against his will, the succession in the NCP has finally been settled in favour of the nephew rather than the daughter whom he had inducted into politics a decade or so ago in the hope of anointing her as his political heir. By the way, Ajit too had fielded his son in the recent Lok Sabha election who however failed to win.

Meanwhile, pressure of the deadline prevents a full assessment of the cataclysmic developments in Mumbai this morning. But suffice it to say that the Opposition, which had reason to feel encouraged with the BJP’s difficulties in Haryana and its failure to form government in Maharashtra, would now be down in the dumps. And, therefore, would act most aggressively and most confrontationally in Parliament when it reassembles next week. It will be interesting to contrast the near-orderly conduct of the two Houses in the week ending Friday, November 22nd, and the coming week. Why? Because losers invariably blame the referee and demand a re-match and create a shindy.

Meanwhile, the media at large was as clueless as the politicians putting together a three-way governing alliance for nearly a month in India’s commercial capital. But one has reason to feel sorry for the liberal-secularist pseudos who while expressing reservations about the Congress-Sena pact were actually feeling elated at the prospect of the BJP being kept out of power in a key state like Maharashtra. They can now be relied upon to revert to the original mode of no-truck-with- the-rabidly-Hinduwadi- Shiv Sena. Opportunism has many names. Secularist-liberal is one of them.

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Maharashtra: When the creature gets back to its creator

In a way, it is good the Shiv Sena and the Congress have got in bed together. For, the Sena too had originally belonged to the same Congress menagerie which had birthed Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and Vellupillai Prabhakaran.. In each case, only when the creature turned on the creator did the Congress try to turn its back on it, but in vain. The fate of Bhindranwale and Prabhakaran is widely known. We can only hope that the Sena-Congress-NCP threesome has a better ending and does not end up devouring the Sena.

To refresh young readers’ memory, Bal Thackeray, the Sena founder, was a newspaper cartoonist when he was encouraged by the then Congress Chief Minister of Maharashtra, the late V P Naik, and the jurist-politician the late Rajni Patel to break the stranglehold of the powerful trade unions in textile mills in what was then Bombay. S A Dange, the late CPI leader, and his hand-picked lieutenants in various trade unions could shut down Bombay at short notice. In the mid-60s, the newly-founded Sena launched a no-holds-barred campaign against outsiders. South Indians or ~lungiwalas~, as Thackeray called them, were targeted for stealing jobs which in the normal course ought to have gone to the Marathi Manoos. This helped Thackeray gain traction with the disgruntled locals. Meanwhile, mill- owners encouraged the Sena to float its own rival trade union wing. It was a win-win situation for Thackeray.

By the time Naik and Patel lost influence in Indira Gandhi’s Congress, the Sena had established itself in Mumbai. Vasantdada Patil, another Congress Chief Minister, did the Sena a good turn, suggesting quite falsely there was a move to make Bombay a union territory. The Sena contested the BMC poll whipping up Marathi sentiment and emerged victorious. The control of the country’s richest municipal body filled the Sena coffers. It never looked back.

Years later, the Sena and the BJP would join hands to challenge the Congress. It was only when the Modi-led BJP emerged the dominant partner did the Sena demur. Now, on the rebound, it found itself, cap in hand, courting the Congress and its bigger offshoot, NCP. Barring NCP, both the Congress and the Sena have had to shed pretence to being sincere to their long professed faiths in order to sup with each other. Both brands will now be unrecognizable, with both losing whatever value they had in the political marketplace.

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The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.