The course of Indian politics is likely to be determined after the results of the three assembly polls are declared later this week. The possibility of new alignments and, perhaps, a major revamp in the Congress party is on the cards. Of the three states, the outcome of Maharashtra is vital to the relationship that exists among various coalition partners. There are enough indications that there may not be a clear winner in this poll. The next government may have to be formed with the help of either independents or smaller parties.
The outcome is also eagerly awaited because it will show how Sharad Pawar behaves with the Congress. He has been licking his wounds all this while and could spring a few surprises if the Congress tally is less than the Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP). In the run-up to the polls, he was repeatedly humiliated and will want to get his own back. But Pawar is a thoroughbred politician and it is difficult to predict how he will react to uncertain situations like this. If he parts company with the Congress, he will certainly calculate its consequences. If he takes such a decision, he and his other party colleagues may have to leave the central government.
The ramifications of a break-up in the Maharashtra coalition will be evident in the national arena. Whether he will want to sit with the rest of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha is a call he will have to take. But he will definitely not allow the Congress to lead the state government if his party emerges with better numbers. The situation is such that whether one likes it or not, Maharashtra politics is Pawar-centric. He is the tallest leader of the state. He knows how to manipulate things better than anyone else.
Old timers will recall that in 1978, he had toppled the Congress (S) and Congress (I) coalition, led by Vasantdada Patil, along with his mentor, the late YB Chavan. In doing so, he outwitted a politician of the calibre of Indira Gandhi. So, he can easily get the better of the current Congress politicians if the dice is loaded in his favour.
The Congress is also split in several camps. Vilasrao Deshmukh, who is backed by a powerful section of the high command, has dreams of becoming the chief minister for the third time. Ashok Chavan, who was handpicked by Rahul Gandhi, will also hope to retain his chair. Narayan Rane rightly or wrongly believes that he has every right to be the next CM. Sushilkumar Shinde who had a very successful but brief tenure is apparently more content being at the Centre. There are others too. But everything depends on the final numbers.
The game is wide open. The Shiv Sena-BJP combine is also keeping its fingers crossed. This combination is expected to do better than the ruling coalition in many areas. The coalition has its share of problems but the leadership question will be settled once it is known who has the larger tally. At this stage, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena could demand its pound of flesh and play a role that is detrimental to the Shiv Sena’s interests.
In the BJP, the leadership tussle is likely to become sharper as Gopinath Munde and N. Gadkari may be locked in a battle. In the Sena, Bal Thackeray will want the coronation of Uddhav during his lifetime. Raj may try to prevent this by throwing in his lot with the Congress-NCP.
On the other hand, the Congress-NCP alliance will face a dilemma if it does not get the numbers on its own since that would mean that the mandate is against it. But in politics the rules of the game are determined by the one who holds the aces. In this case, the aces may be in Pawar’s hands. Between us.