Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government is drawing flak from various sections, including its voters, for taking support from Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party to pass the trust vote on the floor of the Assembly last week. To avoid criticism, the BJP’s floor managers had cleverly planned a strategy under which the trust motion was passed by voice vote. However, it turned out to be counter-productive with the BJP getting flak for both—taking NCP support and pushing through the trust motion using just the voice vote. The last report suggested the BJP-Sena were trying to work out a power-sharing formula, so that the Sena could join the minority government and the BJP leaders could stop worrying about joining hands with the NCP.
Following the trust vote, there were several angry reactions over BJP-NCP co-operation on the floor of the Assembly. However, those in the know of things were little surprised with the bonhomie between the two parties and its leaders. In fact, the friendly relations between the two sides exist from the days when the NCP was born. Several senior NCP leaders tell how the late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan was in touch with NCP chief Sharad Pawar and some others, after the latter was expelled from the Congress for challenging Sonia Gandhi’s leadership and then floated the NCP. Then, the BJP top brass was stitching together a grand alliance and was looking at Pawar as a future ally. After the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the NDA came to power. During the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Pawar was even made the vice-president of a national level disaster management authority. Things started changing a couple of years later and Pawar joined the Congress-led UPA before the 2004 Lok Sabha polls. Even then, the Congress top brass was always wary of Pawar’s moves.
In Maharashtra’s political circles, Pawar’s cordial relations with the late BJP ideologue Vasantrao Bhagwat and Mahajan were well-known. The BJP was part of the Progressive Democratic Front formed by Pawar in Maharashtra, when he was leading Congress (S). It was only after Pawar merged his party with the Congress in the later 1980s, the BJP felt need for a new ally in Maharashtra and Mahajan picked Shiv Sena, which was strong in the Mumbai-Thane belt. The relations between Pawar and BJP leaders turned worse during 1992-95, especially when the late Gopinath Munde launched a high-decibel campaign against him. Things, however, slowly became normal once the Sena-BJP came to power. In 1999, after Pawar formed the NCP, a section of the BJP was hopeful of a BJP-Sena-NCP axis coming to power, as the Assembly election threw a fractured mandate. Pawar, however, went with the Congress in the state as well as at the Centre.
The friendship between certain leaders of the two parties was visible even last year, when the BJP bailed out the NCP as then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan tried to corner Pawar’s party in the legislature.
Among the BJP leaders, it was Munde who preferred not to befriend Pawar, while union minister Nitin Gadkari saw him as a potential ally if the BJP had to marginalize Congress in Maharashtra. In the current circumstances, it is chief minister Fadnavis—who raised the irrigation scam in the legislature—who wants to get rid of the NCP. So, he is pushing for a reunion with the Sena, which would mean a strong government and no dependence on the NCP. A lot depends on his bosses in Delhi, who have so far not shown any signs of affection for the NCP boss.