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View: Surgical strike in Maharashtra

The NCP stares at the beginning of its end. This is regardless of whether Ajit Pawar defected to the BJP’s side with the blessings of Sharad Pawar, or not. If he took the plunge on his own, he has split the NCP and weakened the party. If he went with Sharad Pawar’s silent blessings, the NCP forsakes the non-sectarian space it had vied with the Congress to occupy.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Nov 23, 2019, 04.13 PM IST
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PTI
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The NCP enjoys power in the state for the time being.
If the developments in Maharashtra since declaration of the assembly election results on October 24th were a football game, the swearing-in of Phadnavis as chief minister would earn the strategist who planned the manoeuvres culminating in that event the title of footballer of the year. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have outmanoeuvred everyone else in the field, even Sharad Pawar, whether he was a rival player or a player on the take in the rival team.

The Sena stands diminished. Its leaders look like simple, straightforward people around whom those who belong to the tribe of Chanakya run circles.

The NCP stares at the beginning of its end. This is regardless of whether Ajit Pawar defected to the BJP’s side with the blessings of his uncle, Sharad Pawar, or not. If he took the plunge on his own, he has split the NCP and weakened the party irretrievably. If he went across to the BJP with Sharad Pawar’s silent blessings, the NCP forsakes the non-sectarian space it had vied with the Congress to occupy.

The BJP comes out on top. Amoral, no doubt, but not more than the rivals who had sought to gang up against it, regardless of their own ideological differences.

A surprise beneficiary of these shenanigans is the Congress. With the Sena and the NCP reduced to pale shadows of Balasaheb Thackeray and Sharad Pawar, that, too, shadows at high noon, the Congress can potentially occupy most of the Opposition space in the state. But for the party to do that, it would have to entrust leadership to popular leaders with grassroots connect like Ashok Chavan, not those with wheedling proximity to the Gandhis.

Moneylaundering cases against Ajit Pawar and enforcement directorate moves against Sharad Pawar before the elections testify to the use of government machinery in aid of the ruling party. The alleged launderer of money is now a worthy ally eligible to hold the post of deputy chief minister. It is also not clear if the Governor insisted on the written support of NCP legislators to accede to Fadnavis’ claim that he had a majority, before swearing him in.

Why did Modi-Shah allow this drama to play out so long? Why couldn’t they have struck their deal with Pawar immediately after the Sena announced its determination to get the chief minister’s post? The intervening drama has helped the BJP.

The Congress swallowing its antipathy to Shiv Sena’s Hindutva ideology and cobbling together a front to form the next government in Maharashtra helps the BJP. The party can claim that the Congress is an unprincipled party and that its objections to Hindutva is a sham. People like Owaisi would amplify that message.

In politics, you are nowhere if you stand neither for your principles nor succeed in grabbing power. The Shiv Sena has been pushed to that unenviable space by a week’s fruitless negotiations with the NCP and the Congress. The Sena’s followers could well think of switching their loyalties to the BJP.

The NCP enjoys power in the state for the time being. But as the BJP’s junior partner. Its long-term prospects have been damaged. The BJP now has to contend with the Congress in the state, in the main.

For the Congress, it is an immediate setback, but not much of one. Has it forsaken its claim to be secular opposition to the BJP, by virtue of being willing to ally with the Sena? Not really. If it was possible to keep the BJP out of Maharashtra, even by allying with a BJP fellow traveller, it would have been silly for the Congress to not utilise that possibility. Politics is about using power to a specific end. Denying power to the most effective champion of the end diametrically opposed to the one you seek is part of your politics, and if that means grabbing a slice of power along with those who have broken off from your rival, it would be ridiculous to forgo that opportunity.

The Congress would take some flak in Kerala from the Left, its ally in West Bengal. But in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has weakened the regional parties that had taken away the Congress’ traditional clout, making it easier for the Congress to grow. If it has the will to.
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