Disqualification of rebel Shiv Sena MLAs will rob BJP and rebels of the numbers needed in the Assembly

The stamp of Sharad Pawar is visible as Uddhav Thackeray fights back against the rebels. Shiv Sainiks have exercised restraint and the Sena has moved for disqualification of some of the rebels

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar (File photo)
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar (File photo)
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Sujata Anandan / Mumbai

For three days after the crisis of rebels broke in the Shiv Sena, Sharad Pawar maintained a safe distance from the drama. Asked if he would intervene, all he would say is, ”It is an internal party matter. We cannot interfere unless we are asked to do so.”

Now it seems he has been consulted by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray who is not throwing in the towel yet. On Thursday, Pawar called a press conference and held out a threat to the MLAs camping in Guwahati – "Wherever you may go and camp, you have to ultimately return to Mumbai and Maharashtra.”

It was not a threat of violence, rather one issued with the confidence that Maharashtra continues to be his fiefdom and no one can survive in the state without being on his right side. Technically, he should have no say in the actions or future of Shiv Sena legislators. But while Pawar may have no Constitutional role in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, not a leaf stirs or a paper moves from one desk to another in the MVA Mantralaya without Pawar's express sanction or knowledge. He has never had it so good – absolute power with no responsibility, though Pawar is not the irresponsible kind of politician who will endanger the well being of his beloved state.

Pawar is the singular politician in the country with 55 straight uninterrupted years in power politics. The only five years that he found himself on the back foot was between 2014 and 2019 when Devendra Fadnavis was chief minister. Fadnavis completely stopped his access to the bureaucracy and the administration, raided the co-operative which are the backbone of both the Congress and the NCP, messed up farmers' lives knowing farmers were core NCP voters and just before the Assembly elections in 2019, not only poached away all significant supporters of the NCP but continually taunted Pawar as an old man past his prime and advised him to retire and take sanyas.

Pawar never forgives a slight like that and he fought back with superhuman campaigning skills – we all remember him addressing a rally soaked to the bone in the pouring rain, that singular image is said to have turned the tide in his favour and brought both the Congress and the NCP respectable numbers in the Assembly. When Uddhav Thackeray rebelled against the BJP, Pawar seized the opportunity to form a government in Maharashtra and since then has ensured it functions smoothly with no unseemly clashes between three vastly differing ideological partners.

So Pawar is not likely to give up on the MVA and its government so easily. He knows it is not just a question of the survival of the Shiv Sena and Uddhav Thackeray but also of his party and his GenNext, including his daughter Supriya Sule, nephew Ajit Pawar and great nephew Rohit Pawar who he has just launched into politics.

Should the BJP gain the government in Maharashtra, neither Fadnavis, nor the Modi-Shah duo will spare Pawar and his party for they know full well it is not Uddhav Thackeray - who could have been crushed right away in 2019 without the support and backing he got – but Sharad Pawar who is responsible for the sorry state of the BJP in Maharashtra.

To that extent Pawar watchers and political analysts in Maharashtra even suspect Pawar's hand in the current crisis. According to some it is meant to engineer a mid-term poll in Maharashtra where more than a dozen civic elections are due by September and the three MVA allies are currently in the best position to sweep all polls together.

So why the Shiv Sena? Because, more than the Congress which is of little consequence without a Nehru-Gandhi at the helm and would have been far easier to raid (for there would have been little fightback), it is the Shiv Sena which is absolutely zilch without a Thackeray rallying its forces. The rebels would last only until their terms in the Assembly and the Shiv Sena is likely to sweep the elections - the groundswell of support for Uddhav Thackeray from among the non-elected Shiv Sainiks clearly suggests that is the way Maharashtra might be headed.

The decision to disqualify a dozen of the rebels with more to follow (it has a precedent with courts upholding Sharad Yadav's disqualification for attending an opposition meeting while still being an elected representative of his party) can have only two outcomes. The floor test in the House will not give the BJP the numbers and Shinde most likely will go to the court which will be a long drawn out process.

If Uddhav Thackeray recommends dissolution of the Assembly meantime, constitutionally the governor on whom the BJP is relying heavily, is bound to accept. If he does not Shiv Sainiks are likely to hit the streets - which they have not so far, conscious of the fact that their leader is still the chief minister and they cannot endanger their government further. But that again has Pawar's stamp all over it for Shiv Sainiks act first and think later. But now it is obvious Pawar is thinking for them all.

The game by no means is all done and dusted. The master politician is sitting in Mumbai, not in Delhi or Guwahati.

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    Published: 24 Jun 2022, 9:35 PM