NCP split: What's in it for the BJP?

The BJP loses more than it gains by splitting the NCP

Nationalist Congress Party President (NCP) Sharad Pawar (photo: IANS)
Nationalist Congress Party President (NCP) Sharad Pawar (photo: IANS)

Sujata Anandan

Twenty-four hours after the dust settles on the split in the Nationalist Congress Party, it is clear that the BJP could have gone on the back foot with the addition of a third ‘tire’ to its government.

Questions are being asked about why the BJP had to split another party within a year to reinforce its strength when it really is not lacking in numbers in the Assembly. However, that precisely might have been the compelling reason for breaking up the NCP. For, the Maharashtra Assembly Speaker will soon have to decide on the disqualification of the 18 members of the Shiv Sena against whom former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray had gone to the Supreme Court. The SC all but declared their cross-over as illegal but lobbed the ball back into the court of the Speaker. If he goes by the law, he cannot but disqualify these MLAs and hence the BJP was perhaps in need of reinforcement of numbers to hold up their government until the next Assembly election in October 2024. But in doing so, the BJP might have overreached its advantages.

For, suddenly they have lost the premises they had based their earlier action with regard to the Shiv Sena. Right from the start, Eknath Shinde has been accusing Uddhav Thackeray of “betraying” Hindutva. Why? Not because Uddhav Thackeray or his Shiv Sena committed any anti-Hindu act, but simply because he made an alliance with the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party who profess a secular ideology, rankly opposed to the BJP’s communal agenda.

Not surprisingly SS (UBT) leader Aaditya Thackeray was swift to point out that while his father’s government was taunted as a ‘three-legged’ one by the BJP, the current government now is standing on three legs too and the third leg is the much hated and abhorred NCP.

“I simply cannot fathom why the BJP had to upset its own apple cart,” says senior political analyst Pratap Asbe. “Haven’t they turned themselves into a joke?”

That is because not only have they put loyal ally Eknath Shinde in an untenable position- his men had wanted cabinet berths at the next expansion but had to stand and quietly watch NCP stalwarts they hated sworn in their place – but they have also made life difficult for their deputy chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis.

One of the reasons given by Shinde and his men for splitting the party last year was that NCP ministers in the Uddhav government who hailed from their constituencies were blocking their funds and access to their constituents making it difficult for them to connect with the masses. Now those very ministers are back in the Shinde-Fadnavis government and it may not be long before the rumblings begin again. The Shinde men may even be compelled to return to Uddhav Thackeray’s side. So what has the BJP gained by upsetting them?

Fadnavis for long has been treating Shinde as a mere puppet of the BJP. That recently led the latter to assert himself by issuing advertisements in newspapers wherein Fadnavis found no place. However, Fadnavis is unlikely to get away treating either Ajit Pawar or any of his men as inferior. That is why perhaps to pacify him and pander to his ego, the BJP men are themselves talking of elevating Ajit to the office of the chief minister, his fondest dream for years. Even if the BJP believes it can make up what it loses after Shinde’s exit from association with Ajit Pawar and his men, where does that leave Fadnavis – a former chief minister, riding rough shod over Shinde, but in this case having to play second fiddle to Ajit Pawar? Would the BJP risk humiliating its tallest leader in the state thus?

“They grossly miscalculated,” adds Asbe. “There is no way they can get the upper hand over the NCP men and now they are facing the consolidation of people’s sentiments on two fronts- the Shiv Sena for Uddhav Thackeray and the NCP for Sharad Pawar.”

They should have learnt from Uddhav Thackeray’s fight back, says Asbe,  for he was under advice of Sharad Pawar. And although they may all have thought Pawar would cave in under the shock of a split in his party that he is trying hard to avoid for years, they should have known he likes nothing  better than to fight the good fight and win fairly and squarely.

Taking a cue from Sharad Pawar, Aaditya Thackeray too has now pitched the fight as one between principles and self- interest. He has mocked the Shinde group for saying they were persuaded to accept the NCP because without the latter they could not have won 145 seats in the Assembly, “Isn’t that an admission (by the Shinde group) that they don’t have much of a base and will lose the next elections?”

Perhaps it is, though as a justification it was certainly foolish and unwise. The BJP might wish it had been more careful in choosing its friends. For now its enemies are offering it no quarter.

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