Did Pawars outwit the BJP? Sharad Pawar shows how to take on both money and muscle

Did the older Pawar stage manage his nephew’s revolt? Or did Ajit Pawar actually think he could pull off the rebellion against his uncle and form a government with the BJP?

Did Pawars outwit the BJP? Sharad Pawar shows how to take on both money and muscle

Sujata Anandan (with bureau reports)

Did the older Pawar stage manage his nephew’s revolt? Or did Ajit Pawar actually think he could pull off the rebellion against his uncle and form a government with the BJP? The jury is still out but a large section of people are convinced that Pawar junior went over to the BJP with his uncle’s blessings.

The popular narrative in Maharashtra is that Sharad Pawar set up the charade to force the Union government to revoke President’s Rule in Maharashtra.

It was certain, the narrative goes, that Modi and Shah would not have given in easily and facilitate a Shiv Sena-led government in the state. They would rather have continued with President’s Rule and used the time to break the parties and lure legislators from other parties in their favour.

It was the charade of Ajit Pawar’s defection and his brazen support to the BJP, which prompted a midnight emergency call to the PMO and the President and the revocation of President’s Rule at the crack of dawn, clearing the way first to Devendra Fadnavis’ swearing in and then a second resignation within a fortnight and thereafter the formation of a government led by the Shiv Sena.

If that speculation is indeed correct, Pawar has been more than a Chanakya and a Machiavelli put together and it is a lesson for all opposition leaders battling the subversion of constitutional norms by the ruling dispensation across the country on how to use the Constitution to defeat its own subversion. And how to stand firm in unity despite ideological or other differences in the interest of saving democracy and their parties from decimation by means fair or foul.

Sharad Pawar, a battle-scarred veteran, had more than one reason to defeat the BJP at its own game. And he did it without the use of any muscle or money power, without threats or inducements, relying solely on his stock with the grassroots voters, a faith in constitutional democracy and its institutions, notably the Supreme Court, despite some recent disrepute to these bodies and an unerring instinct for his own personal survival.

Pawar was virtually in semi-retirement at the start of the poll process. Now he has become the rallying point for the entire opposition across the country.

They had watched the BJP’s shenanigans in Maharashtra keenly and waited to see how a leaderless party (Congress), a party-less leader (Pawar, before he got back every last one of his legislators) and an inexperienced dynast with little more than a famous surname (Thackeray) manage to overcome the money, muscle and clout of the ruling dispensation.

To their satisfaction, the BJP has ended up with much egg all over its face. And Maharashtra developments could well be a turning point. The colours of India are already changing as maps circulating on WhatsApp forwards indicate. And the Opposition would like to believe that Maharashtra has halted the BJP’s spectacular run.

The outcome of the ongoing election in Jharkhand and the impending elections in Delhi, Bihar and West Bengal in the next 18 months will be crucial for both the BJP and the opposition. And Maharashtra undoubtedly has given the opposition a leg-up.

In retrospect, both Devendra Fadnavis and BJP president Amit Shah could be regretting their action in needling Pawar, unleashing the Enforcement Directorate (ED) against the family before the election and attacking them quite needlessly during the campaign.

Ever since Sharad Pawar offered to go over to the ED’s office to cooperate with the investigation, which sent the city’s Police Commissioner scurrying to Pawar’s residence to request that he refrain from stepping out, the leader was a man possessed.

The electrifying image of the nearly 80-year-old leader addressing an election rally in the rain will remain in people’s memory for a long time. It undoubtedly left an impression on voters. Moreover, if Pawar really hand-held Narendra Modi through his early days in politics, as Modi himself once famously claimed, he seems to have learnt nothing from Pawar, who, fortunately for him and his party, was not a very good teacher.

Had Pawar been a good teacher, he would have taught Modi the value of grassroots support, shorn of hyperbole and emotional rhetoric that can only take you this far and no further.

That grassroots support is what carried the day for Pawar as not just the family members of the MLAs who had bolted with his nephew Ajit Pawar, but even the grassroots voters put tremendous pressure on the newly elected legislators to stand by Pawar senior and not stab him in the back.

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Published: 28 Nov 2019, 2:58 PM