Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed visit to the NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s hometown Baramati in Pune district has upset the Shiv Sena, as the political party perceives this bonhomie between the PM and Pawar to be aimed at undermining the Sena’s political importance.

It’s not only Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who has taken strong exception to this proposed meeting, but also other smaller partners of the NDA in Maharashtra. The BJP’s ally in the state, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna, led by Raju Shetty, has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to share the dais with Pawar in Baramati. The party has reminded the BJP that during the election campaign, Modi had asked the voters to free Baramati of Pawar and is now wondering how the PM has accepted an invitation from Pawar. Shetty and Pawar are at loggerheads in the state over issues facing cooperative sugar factories.

Although officially there is no relationship between the BJP and the NCP at the state or national level, the party has been extending support to the Modi-led NDA Government in the Parliament, especially in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP-led NDA does not have the majority to pass several important bills. It may be recalled that Pawar, on his own, had offered non-conditional support from outside to the BJP-led Government in Maharashtra, while the Shiv Sena was playing hardball. The BJP Government could be sworn in and ensure the passing of the confidence motion with outside support of the NCP, while the Sena had been refusing to join the government over power-sharing issues.

When the BJP realised that it could ill-afford to totally depend on the NCP’s outside support, it went on to work out a solution with the Sena and the latter, which was sitting on the opposition benches, ended up joining the government. However, this has not changed equations between Pawar and Modi, as it appears that Pawar is playing a significant role behind the scenes in ensuring smooth governance by the Modi Government.

Modi has accepted an invitation from Pawar to visit Baramati, a Pawar stronghold, to inaugurate a new Krishi Vigyan Kendra on Valentine’s Day, which may be the beginning of a new chapter of cooperation between Modi and Pawar. Modi will also attend another function organised by the Vidya Pratishthan, an educational institution run by the Pawar family.  Pawar was a significant partner of the UPA I and II Governments, but distanced himself from the Congress just before the recently held assembly elections in Maharashtra. For the NCP, the alliance with the Congress is almost over and the party is free to chart its own political course in coming days. Now that it is almost certain that the BJP-led government will complete its five-year term, not only the NCP, but other smaller regional parties are redrawing their political plans.

The NCP state president Sunil Tatkare has ruled out any political understanding with either the BJP or the NDA, saying that the invitation to Modi was strictly as PM of the country and not as a political leader, as the NCP’s ideological position is already clear and the possibility of any political understanding is ruled out. However, there is no need for either Pawar or Modi to have any political understanding, as both are comfortable with each other at a personal level. There was talk of a meeting between the two just after Modi took over as PM, but this was denied by both.

The NCP is going to maintain its political position by opposing the BJP-led government in Maharashtra, but indirectly cooperating with the NDA Government in Delhi, especially when the ruling BJP needs support in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP has tactfully used the vacillating NCP to deal with the more aggressive Shiv Sena during its difficult power-sharing negotiations. The NCP has been playing hot and cold with the BJP for quite some time. Pawar wrote a strong letter to Modi opposing the Maharashtra Government’s move to set up a separate development panel for Mumbai under the PM’s chairmanship. Modi has preferred to ignore Pawar’s protest so far.

 Uddhav Thackeray is not very happy with these developments as he perceives them as reminders to the Sena that if it plays too hard, the BJP can always bank on Pawar. The Sena is not at all very comfortable with the state BJP leaders, as its party workers do not see the power-sharing in the state as very equitable. Uddhav used Balasaheb Thackeray’s 89th birth anniversary for political introspection as well as to take stock of the situation in the state, since the party joined the Devendra Fadnavis Government. The party is also using a film, ‘Balkadu’, produced by the executive editor of ‘Saamana’, Sanjay Raut, to re-energise the party.

Neither is the Sena happy about Fadnavis  paying heed to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief, Raj Thackeray, on the issue of reducing the burden borne by students carrying bulky backpacks or school bags. Uddhav says he has already talked about providing new technology to improve education using modern technology and reducing the children’s burden. Uddhav wants the state schools to provide note books to the students enabled with new technology. This has also upset the Shiv Sena which has been trying to introduce new software and preloaded note books in the state.

Uddhav has begun questioning the BJP leadership, asking questions about the electoral promises made by Modi and the others during the last Lok Sabha elections and their fulfilment. More worried about the coming elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is the lifeline of the Sena, he is worried about the MNS’ and Pawar’s moves to get closer to the BJP. He is not sure whether the BJP would like to contest the BMC elections as a poll ally or if the parties will contest independently.

The BJP’s city unit has already announced its desire to win 100 seats in the civic polls. These circumstances will keep both parties on tenterhooks, as the BJP is not interested in giving up available political alternatives. The love-hate relationship between the allies is bound to continue for some more time, while the NCP watches from afar.

Prakash Bal Joshi

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