The Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar, along with the Bharatiya Janata Party, has hit out at the Congress seeking the removal of Congress veteran Shivajirao Deshmukh from his position as chairman of the state legislative council.
This happens to be the last top statutory post the Congress had since its rout in the state legislative assembly elections. While the Congress is furious with the NCP, with which it ruled the state for last 15 years, the Shiv Sena, which has joined the BJP-led government, disapproves of BJP support to the NCP move to have Deshmukh step down.
But the question is: Is it merely about the post or does the cooperation between the BJP and the NCP extend beyond what meets the eye? The question is being discussed heatedly in the political circles in the state, as all the major players are affected by this possibility although both have been attacking each other during poll campaigns.
However, if one takes a closer look at the NCP’s track record, one will find nothing shocking about the unseating of Deshmukh by the NCP with the support of BJP. Only a fortnight ago, the NCP had teamed up with the BJP to loosen the grip of the erstwhile chief of the BCCI, N Srinivasan, over the cricket board. The NCP has also been making noises against policy initiatives by the Narendra Modi Government in Delhi, but when it comes to supporting some major issues like the Insurance Bill, it has been forthcoming in its support.
The NCP has made it clear that it had already ended its long alliance with the Congress before the state legislative assembly elections and contested on its own strength. Actually, it had been waiting for the BJP to break up its long-standing alliance with the Shiv Sena, so that all four parties stood an equal chance in the state.
Nevertheless, the then Congress chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, had declared that there was some kind of mutual understanding between the NCP and the BJP over the state elections. No one took his words seriously then. Only when Pawar unilaterally announced unconditional support to any government being set up in Maharashtra did observers rewind to Prithviraj Chavan’s allegations. The BJP used this declaration to browbeat the Shiv Sena to the extent that the Sena decided it would sit in opposition and the BJP chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, could win the confidence motion with NCP’s outside support.
For the BJP, it is a win-win situation. Having stripped the Congress of an important state position and driven a wedge between the two Congress parties, it can now stake its claim over the deputy chairman’s post in the council, presently held by the NCP. The NCP says that with the end of its alliance with the Congress, the understanding over the chairman’s post in the council too is over and since it has the largest number, it wants its own chairman.
The NCP has 28 members, followed by the Congress with 21, the BJP with 12 and the Sena with 7 in the state legislative council. At one point, there was so much bitterness during the five-hour debate in the House that at one point, Shiv Sena minister Ramdas Kadam fumed, “We will soon know who’s kissing whom,” which the BJP countered by pointing out the close friendship between Pawar and the late Sena supremo, Balasaheb Thackeray.
The Maharashtra Congress president, Ashok Chavan, feels that with this removal of a Congress leader from the post, the NCP has shown that it wants to go along with the BJP in the near future. For the state BJP, it is one step ahead towards ‘Congress-Mukta Bharat.’ This will now lead to a situation where the Congress and the NCP will have no understanding in the coming municipal or zilla parishad elections and will be in the truest sense, be done being poll allies. The Congress will now have to really slug it out alone, facing attacks from the BJP-Sena, as well as the NCP.
Those who have been observing Pawar and his politics for the last four decades are not surprised by the NCP move His supporters say that Pawar has great survival instincts, pointing out that very few splinter groups have survived so long on their own. However, his detractors, especially those having suffered on account of Pawar’s machinations say that he is a rank opportunist and give one instance after another to justify their accusations.
When Pawar first formed the Progressive Democratic Front Government in the state with the help of opposition parties, leaving Vasantdada Patil in lurch, the Janata Dal Government in Delhi was obviously happy that the Congress had been weakened by the Pawar move. He returned to the Congress fold when Rajiv Gandhi was in the saddle in Delhi with a solid mandate.
However, when the Congress was once again out of power and Sonia Gandhi took charge, Pawar revolted, was thrown out of the party and he then set up the NCP. He had to join hands again with the Congress to run a government in Maharashtra for 15 years. In the Vajpayee Government, he headed the disaster management committee with a full-fledged cabinet rank. His party has survived so long because the Congress-NCP alliance won three consecutive elections to the state legislative assembly, going on to rule Maharashtra for 15 long years.
Now that the Congress is out of power in Delhi as well as Maharashtra, Pawar has to defend his party on his own and finds it easier to survive by extending unconditional support to the BJP Government in the state and cooperation in the Rajya Sabha. No one should be surprised if the BJP-NCP are unofficially in collaboration — it’s merely a game plan for survival.