Maharashtra tiger flaunts new stripes

Like the tiger that has tasted human blood, the Sena has also turned rogue.

 |  5-minute read |   04-12-2019
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How many times can a tiger change its stripes? A visitor from Mumbai summed up the confusing complications of Maharashtra's jigsaw puzzle. "Sharad Pawar, that wily old fox, has pulled off his last masterstroke."

After Pawar senior's deal with Narendra Modi fell through, was Ajit the missile that his uncle aimed to fell the mighty BJP? Or was angry Ajit just the loose cannon, the enfant terrible, who accidentally hit bull's eye? His ghar wapasi was engineered at great cost to himself and his party's prestige. But one thing is clear. Sharad Pawar has won this round of the Maharashtra sweepstakes.

BJP's false move

Unfortunately for him, however, it's not a winner takes all contest. The spoils of office are to be shared in a tripartite arrangement, with Shiv Sena coming out on top and Congress a reluctant third. Given the shakiness of such a coalition, voters are bound to feel betrayed. No wonder, when Sharad Pawar first proposed the idea, interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi was hesitant to fall in line. As to the Shiv Sena, now derogatorily referred to as the 'Sonia Sena', no amount of bluster and boasting can varnish the compromised Uddhav Thackeray in the front, propped up from behind by frenemies NCP and Congress.

sharad-pawar-690_120419111328.jpgNo amount of bluster and boasting can varnish the compromised Uddhav Thackeray. (Photo: Reuters)

Translated into simple English — open season for corruption galore in India's financial capital. After serving a full five-year first term as chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis has the distinction of the shortest second term in the state — just 80 hours or barely four days. True, there have been a couple of even briefer spells — Jagdambika Pal occupied the Uttar Pradesh gaddi for just 44 hours in 1998; BS Yediyurappa's 55 hours in May occurred in 2018. In the latter's case, however, he became Karnataka CM again in July this year. Perhaps, Fadnavis will enjoy the same comeuppance in Maharashtra, even if not so soon. Certainly, the silence in the BJP camp after Fadnavis's stepping down cannot be taken for granted. Yes, they were outmaneuvered.

They acted in haste. Didn't undertake the due diligence. Worse, they trusted the wrong guy. In retrospect, even governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari should have been more careful. The BJP is down, but certainly not out. They are smarting from their wounds. They will strike back if given a chance. It's a wait and watch game. The ruling coalition is bound to develop cracks and dissensions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah will surely strike back. Such an unholy and wobbly ménage à trois cannot last. This is definitely not the last act in the Maharashtra potboiler. Many pieces have moved across the political chessboard, but the game of thrones is far from over.

Hindutva volte face

In less uncertain times, I had stuck my neck out by saying that it was time for the BJP to go it alone. This has come about, but in circumstances that may not be to the party's liking. However, whether in life or politics, breakups are seldom clean. This one was indeed messy. Politics may be defined as the art of breaking up and making up. If so, Maharashtra presents a classic case for future students. Not just the BJP-Shiv Sena which took place, but the one within the Pawar clan which was averted. Despite Ajit Pawar's public display of affection with NCP MP Supriya Sule, is the simmering family feud and power struggle really a thing of the past? Coming to the Sena, is this Uddhav Thackeray's finest hour or false bravado before the fall? Though he is the first Thackeray CM, is he quite up to the mark? Balasaheb kept his dignity by refusing the CM's gaddi. That gave him the authority to scold, berate, abuse and control everyone else in Maharashtra. It also made him an as much loved as feared figure in Maharashtra politics. Uddhav is no match for his father. Except that like his dad, who was an ace cartoonist, Uddhav, is a pretty good photographer. Power is a heady narcotic. Like the tiger that has tasted human blood, the Sena has also turned rogue. But Uddhav should know that only old and lame tigers take to hunting humans. It signals that the end is near.

'Secular' games

How long will the tiger continue to roar in Mumbai? The Sena's base consists of the urban, disgruntled, underemployed, underclass. Political patronage and money may keep the cadres busy for a while, but the people will vote against the party. Once out of power, non-statutory extraction, along with collateral benefits in cinema, real estate and other lucrative businesses, will dissipate. In clinging to power by hook or crook, the Sena has proved beyond a shadow of doubt that it has no real ideology to speak of. It has metamorphosed as uneasily and unconvincingly from an anti-South Indian party to neo-secular one today.

To return to Sharad Pawar, though he's the real winner today, he is not trusted by Sonia Gandhi. He has ditched the Congress before. The nation may have forgotten, but Pawar certainly wouldn't have that Sonia did not let him become PM. He, of course, returned the compliment. Forty years back he had also brought down the Vasantdada Patil government, becoming Maharashtra's youngest CM. It is not clear who will play the spoiler/kingmaker in the days to come, but the NCP also faces a tough road ahead.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Will Maha Vikas Aghadi ride the tiger full five years in Maharashtra?

Writer

Makarand R Paranjape Makarand R Paranjape @makrandparanspe

The writer is director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. The views are personal.

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