Politics, as they, is the last resort of a scoundrel. Then it goes without saying that there is no place for an honest, sincere man in politics. Ask Prithviraj Chavan, Maharashtra’s chief minister, who has been in the firing line of all party legislators from Day One, even before the Congress’ rout in the Lok Sabha polls.
Chavan, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s blue-eyed boy, has nevertheless been a thorn in the flesh of not just the NCP but even his own party men ever since his style of functioning got in the way of their conduct of their own politics. Ever since he took over the reins of government in November 2010 in the wake of the Adarsh scam that had scalped his predecessor Ashok Chavan, legislators realised that they had been better off with chief ministers who might have bent the rules here and there but, unlike Prithviraj Chavan, were essentially grassroots leaders.
But after the death of Vilasrao Deshmukh the Congress in the state is left with no grassroots leader at all. It faces the piquant situation of having to be totally dependent upon NCP president Sharad Pawar to retain the state in the assembly elections due in October. Many believe that the latest move to replace Chavan as chief minister arises from Pawar’s desire to have full and unquestioned control of the campaign, come September. For this purpose he would prefer former Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde to be in charge. Shinde began his political career as Pawar’s supporter and has throughout his tenure in the Congress conceded right of way to the former, even when protocol demanded otherwise.
Shinde, however, I am told, is uninterested in the job, essentially because an election victory seems like a lost cause. Moreover, the Congress is looking to Bombay and its capitalists to replenish the party’s depleted treasury and Shinde does not think he is up to the task of delivering on the required huge amounts. The Congress has other Maratha candidates in the fray but that doesn’t seem to suit the NCP’s game plan which has been hell bent on reservations in government jobs for Marathas – having a Dalit face, in Shinde, at the helm could have balanced out the Maratha bias. Moreover, Pawar clearly does not want any more competition by agreeing to another Maratha at the top. The NCP is already reduced to a party of just sugar barons, why shrink its space any further?
However, his recent emphasis on collective leadership to combat the situation arising out of a sweeping BJP victory in the Lok Sabha polls has set off rumours that the Congress has proposed a merger of the NCP with the parent party. Pawar is clearly in a situation where he could have the best of both the worlds.
I do not think he will accept the proposal for it works better to be in charge of his own party and then have the Congress totally leaning on him for survival. It must feel like poetic justice to Pawar, who split the Congress on the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origins, to see the dynasty on the ebb but he must first sort out dynastic squabbles in his own party. While his nephew Ajit Pawar is highly ambitious and hoping to take a shot at the job of chief minister; Sharad Pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule, rather unpopular among the rank and file, is said to be a serious concern for her father. Sharad Pawar must salvage the party from a future split à la the one that happened to the Shiv Sena a few years ago because of the ego clashes between the two Thackeray cousins. A merger with the Congress would help Sharad Pawar blunt the attack from his nephew and the latter’s supporters — and this might also be the right time to grab the Congress, at its weakest form and emerge as one of the leading lights of the party nationally.
This could be Pawar’s moment in history. But I think he will opt for status quo — no Maratha, including Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, has yet succeeded in conquering Delhi. Why should Pawar be any different?