Did Sharad Pawar have some kind of an arrangement with Narendra Modi that led to the breakup of the two alliances in Maharashtra? Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said so minutes after the two breakups and MNS president Raj Thackeray, too, has been accusing the NCP and the BJP of a conspiracy.
I took those allegations with a pinch of salt, though when it comes to Pawar nothing is impossible and no conspiracy theory too fantastic to be incredible. But I was startled recently by the show 'Majha Katta' on ABP Majha in which Mahadev Jankar, who lost to Supriya Sule in Baramati by 59,000 votes, made no bones about Pawar's arrangements with Modi. According to Jankar, Modi apologised to him after the Lok Sabha poll results for not holding a public meeting in Baramati, which the latter believed would have helped him cover the deficit and beat Pawar's daughter on their own home turf.
Jankar publicly stated that Modi told him that he had promised Pawar that he would not to come to Baramati - in return for Pawar's offer of support of five to six MPs in case the NDA fell short of a majority. "It was an error of judgment,'' Modi reportedly told Jankar. And added: "But I will make amends for it and ensure that your political career is not destroyed.''
Jankar is now part of the coalition with the BJP after its breakup with the Shiv Sena and Modi, this time, is indeed going to Baramati where he will hold a rally in the middle of Ajit Pawar's constituency. I do not put it past Pawar that the Modi meeting is happening with his consent for I believe that there was more to the NCP breaking up with the Congress than just a conspiracy with the BJP. At the least, I thought, this was Pawar's Machiavellian way of cutting his nephew down to size - Ajit had got too big for his boots in recent years and was proving a headache and public embarrassment to Pawar. The Maratha warlord knows that the NCP has little chance of doing well at these polls without the Congress and, whatever the results, he can be sure that Ajit will be left without any bargaining powers at the end of these polls.
But it is also revealing that Pawar has gone on the record to state that had he not broken up with the Congress, his party stalwarts were in danger of migrating to the Sena or the BJP. In fact, many of them have been waiting to swing back to the Congress for years. The only thing that keeps them together is their business interests - most of them are sugar barons. But with this institutional support failing them in the Lok Sabha polls, they might well have decided to build bridges with the party in power at the Centre - the BJP's politics and their economics bringing mutual benefits.
But Pawar was also probably looking out for his own - I am told by unimpeachable sources that the anti-corruption bureau, on orders from the Bombay High Court, was about to move against those named in the irrigation scam and the reason why the NCP 'resigned' and reduced Maharashtra to a minority government barely 20 days before the polls was to prevent Chavan from signing the file that had arrived at his desk that evening. Engineering the imposition of President's rule in the state has helped them to buy time - though how long the NCP can escape culpability in the scam is doubtful as this is a court-generated investigation in which a cover-up might be impossible.
In the entire mess that is the Maharashtra election scenario today, Pawar, of course, is the only leader of consequence in the state (I do not think either Modi or Amit Shah can match his knowledge of the state or skills at quietly influencing the voters). However, in the kind of games that he plays, Pawar is in danger of being reduced to a political pygmy after these results.
This is one sugar baron who could be facing a bitter end to his political career.