BJP licking wounds in Mumbai

Beginning with the ED notice to Sharad Pawar in 2019 to letting loose IT and ED on Ajit Pawar’s sisters this month, BJP has tried every trick to discredit, divide and topple the ruling coalition

BJP licking wounds in Mumbai

Sujata Anandan

Is it possible that Sharad Pawar has finally made up his mind? After years of playing footsie with Narendra Modi and the BJP, the Lakhimpur Kheri incident of Uttar Pradesh appears to have led him to draw the battle lines in Maharashtra; for it was very unusual for a state government to sponsor a bandh on October 11.

Between 2014 and 2019, he could never make up his mind about his relationship with the BJP, until the latter poached almost his entire party ahead of the Assembly elections in Maharashtra that year and many hard core secularists in his party pointed out how his flirtations with the BJP were adversely affecting their voter base.

Then the Centre let loose the Enforcement Directorate on him and that was a turning point. But even after the formation of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, Pawar was hobnobbing with top BJP leaders and giving out conflicting signals to his electorate.

However, the Nationalist Congress Party is largely a party of farmers and it would certainly not have done to allow BJP to get away with Lakhimpur Kheri without protest. Pawar is nothing if not a weather cock, and I believe he senses that the BJP might not do too well in Uttar Pradesh and this could be the beginning of the end of BJP regime in the country.

Moreover, there are other battle lines drawn between the NCP and the BJP. The Centre let loose Income Tax raids on Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar and his family and friends last week, including his sisters and their children, leaving Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister and finance minister hopping mad.

The last time Ajit Pawar teamed up with the BJP as deputy to chief minister Devendra Farnavis, all charges of financial irregularities against him were dropped and the BJP government withdrew all the cases against him. Having been Maharashtra’s finance minister for over a decade, Ajit Pawar says he knows very well how income tax returns are filed and so do other members of the family and friends.

Besides BJP’s scant regard for farmers, the Pawars have taken the battle to another camp that of women voters. Ajit Pawar has been furious that his sisters, who married and moved away more than 25 years ago and have nothing to do with the Pawar family’s business interests, should be subjected to raids and his cousin Supriya Sule, Pawar’s daughter, has also issued statements on how BJP has no respect for women.

The show of strength also came in the wake of by-elections to zilla parishads and panchayat samitis. The MVA swept more than half the seats, the BJP putting up a poor show despite an alliance with MNS. It is now clear that to keep the large rural population on its side, neither Shiv Sena nor NCP can afford to maintain even an illusion of friendly relations with BJP.

Another indicator is how NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik, said to be very close to Sharad Pawar, has been going hammer and tongs at BJP, exposing the nexus of its leaders with the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in the Aryan Khan drugs case. Reading between the lines it is an attempt to boost Shah Rukh Khan’s confidence and to weaken the case against his son by declaring the NCB raid on the cruise ship as motivated as the income tax raid on Ajit Pawar’s friends and family as well as the earlier 2019 ED notice to Sharad Pawar that had to be aborted due to the latter’s refusal to buckle down.

It’s also significant that Congress is gradually losing its wariness of Shiv Sena and each is making common cause with the other. The Sena does not yet have much of a rural base and in the recently concluded ZP elections it was behind Congress and NCP. The Congress led the three parties, being only marginally behind BJP in terms of individual seats.

The spokespersons of all three parties came together to announce the bandh, and on the bandh day it was an unusual sight to see Youth Congress workers walking shoulder to shoulder with Shiv Sainiks enforcing the bandh in BJP strongholds in Mumbai.

The writing on the wall is thus clear--united they stand and letting loose central agencies on them, their friends or family is not going to drive a wedge in the coalition. At least not yet. BJP may have overplayed its hand with both farmers and MVA leaders.

Views are personal

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