Regardless of which way the ongoing Maharashtra power struggle ends, it is clear that for the first time in his long career Sharad Pawar faces the biggest challenge of his life. Having been hit at this late stage by the daughter-stroke, instead of handing over the reins of the Nationalist Congress Party to his nephew Ajit Pawar, as widely speculated, Pawar senior now seems to want to anoint daughter Supriya Sule as his political heir. That alone seems to be the reason why he has been caught on the wrong foot in the political tussle. In 2004, despite the NCP winning more MLAs than the Congress, Pawar senior ceded chief ministership to the Congress in 2004. As the man on the ground who virtually controlled the organization, Ajit had long harboured ambition of being a natural successor to his uncle. But as the uncle wheeled out Sule in the political arena, and eventually handed over his pocket-borough, Baramati, to her, Ajit grew suspicions. Seen from this perspective, Ajit’s action last Saturday in teaming up with the BJP to form the government provide yet another motive, quite aside from the widely suspected fear of the on-going investigations into various corruption charges against him. Of course, much of the commentary on the unregulated legislative traffic in the newly-elected Assembly is completely one-sided, reflecting the deep-seated anti-BJP bias. However, if the breakdown of all constitutional norms and proprieties is to be seen from a fair and independent perspective it is undeniable that the game of betrayal and horse-trading was initiated by the Shiv Sena. On October 24, when the results showed that the BJP had done below expectations, winning a mere 105 seats, the Sena, its pre-poll ally, with 56 MLAs, began to twist the arm in its body, demanding a disproportionately high share in power, including the chief minister’s post for half the five-year term. This was pure and simple blackmail. While condemning in no uncertain terms the nocturnal coup on Saturday in which the central government and the Governor too were equally complicit, pundits obsessing with the BJP’s perfidious conduct ought to pause and ponder over the overturning of longstanding ideological positions by the Sena and the Congress in their quest for power. Nobody, just nobody, comes out smelling of roses in this naked, no-holds-barred power struggle. It is worth noting here that such events with little variations have happened before in UP, Bihar, Karnataka, etc. When the voters return hung verdicts they invite politicians to indulge in their favourite pastime of horse-trading. In Maharashtra, this was eminently avoidable had the Sena leadership not grown too big for its boots. Its blackmail, its ugly ambition, its burning desire to be a senior partner in the three-decade long alliance with the BJP, is the sole cause for the sorry mess in the State.
Hopefully, things will clarify a bit when later this week the inevitable floor test takes place. Whether Devendra Fadnavis’s gamble will pay off or the new-fangled trio of the senior Pawar-led NCP-Congress-Sena, － yes, in that pecking order － will win the day remains to be seen. The apex court, which has now become the first port of call for all politicians feeling outsmarted by their rivals in the power tussle, can do no better than ask Fadnavis to prove his majority on the floor of the House at the earliest. The newly-elected MLAs are to be administered the oath of loyalty to the Constitution, the very-one whose provisions and spirit they mangle every day. Whether Ajit Pawar is lawfully stripped of his position as the legislative leader of the NCP or whether he can still issue a whip to the MLAs, since no formal meeting of the legislative party took place to oust him from leadership, are questions for the pro tem speaker to consider. In fact, the nomination of a pro-tem speaker too could be a source of intense contention. Without doubt, should Fadnavis fail to prove his majority, senior Pawar alone will have reason to smile. Because this would be his last and probably most hard-fought win. More significantly, he would have fulfilled his heart’s desire to anoint his daughter as his political heir and paid put to the ambitions of his nephew. In short, Sharad Pawar has high stakes in this drama. As for the Sena and the Congress, whichever way the floor test goes, the two are bound to end up losers eventually.
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