You have to hand it to Sharad Pawar - he sure knows how to have his cake and eat it too. He also knows how to kill two birds with a single stone.
The last time round when he threw a tantrum with the UPA, it was to ensure that Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde was not given
that job - or at least not made the leader of the House. Shinde began life as Pawar's worker and the union agriculture minister did not want to have to play second fiddle to the man he had brought into politics. He also simultaneously targeted chief minister Prithviraj Chavan as the CM was threatening to release a white paper on irrigation scams in the state. Pawar's nephew Ajit had held that department for the major part of the 13 years that the Congress-NCP has been in government
Chavan has been following his brief from the party high command to rid the Maharashtra government of its venal image and believes he has been doing a pretty good job of it. Confident in his backing from his party president, Chavan had been turning a deaf ear to pleas from Pawar to let go. He has also been systematically weakening every institution that is dear to the Pawars - like the superceding of the apex co-operative bank more than a year ago. Ajit's hold over the bank was primarily responsible for the grip of the NCP over legislators from all parties, including the BJP and the Shiv Sena, who are dependent on co-operative banks to fund their rural businesses.
Pawar's tantrum soon after the presidential polls in July did not achieve much. Now Chavan has renewed his anti-graft campaign with vigour - and most of the exposes have been against NCP ministers like Chhagan Bhujbal, Sunil Tatkare and, yes, Ajit Pawar.
The flip side of the coin is that Ajit, as Maharashtra's deputy chief minister, has gotten too big for his boots. He is also no longer dependent upon his uncle for support or resources. Many NCP workers and MLAs have been shifting their loyalties to Ajit as they find him more dependable and reliable than the NCP president. That fact has been a thorn in Pawar's side for long - the fear of Ajit engineering a split in the NCP to strike out on his own has been like a sword hanging over Pawar's head for months now.
That is why I find the current move to enforce the resignations of all ministers of the NCP in the government a brilliant move (though they have sent those letters to just the local party president and not the CM which is quite meaningless). I believe that this could not just have been Ajit's face-saving tactic. For, if Ajit has gathering support in his uncle's party, there are enough ministers from the NCP who are fiercely opposed to him, too, and these latter would have been glad to see him go.
And even though, perhaps, borrowed from Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress (Pawar was in Calcutta the evening the drama unfolded in Bombay), the resignations of all his ministers from the Democratic Front government in Maharashtra is a great tactic to save his own family from acquiring the ignominy it would surely have had thrust upon its fair name had Ajit been alone in resigning his post. At the same time it helps Pawar to cut his nephew down to size, too
I tend to go with Raj Thackeray on this one: that it is all a nautanki aimed at covering their own flanks. It is also a good try at compelling the Congress to give Chavan the boot - which was largely expected after Pranab Mukherjee's elevation to the office of the president. Pawar had hoped that Chavan would be made a union minister and a more pliable Congressman would be brought to the state in his place. Now with a cabinet reshuffle on the cards once more, Pawar is perhaps hoping that he would gain on the swings what he lost on the roundabouts the last time. Or at least have Chavan's hands tied down by New Delhi.
For quitting the alliance is not an option. At the bottom line is the fact that the NCP cannot hope to win more than 60 seats in the Assembly or a mere half dozen in the Lok Sabha without an alliance with the Congress. And that is the Congress's trump card, too. The party called Pawar's bluff in July. Will it do so even now?
For Pawar, surely, is just crying wolf, again.
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