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All is not well with BJP’s allies

Mumbai city news: Much of this has to do with the poor handling of the allies by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

mumbai Updated: Jul 03, 2017 10:53 IST
Sujata Anandan
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis(HT File)

The refusal of Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray to blindly endorse the choice of president by the Modi government at the Centre and his flat denial to Bharatiya janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah’s face, once again underlines the by now incontrovertible fact of the tremendous distrust between the BJP and its allies.

Whatever may or may not happen in the month ahead with regard to the contest for Rashtrapati Bhavan, what was largely missed during Shah’s visit to the state was that all is not well in the Maharashtra government with other allies too — and there could soon be a break-up of the party with more than just one partner. Much of this has to do with the poor handling of the allies by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis per se, though it was generally presumed that it was only the Shiv Sena smarting at having to play second fiddle to the BJP in the state.

Now, however, the cracks with the Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana (SSS) as well have become visible and the mishandling of the recent farmers’ strike is just one aspect. After Fadnavis’s dramatic midnight deal with farmers the day after they went on strike and the arbitrary announcement that the agitation was over, the ryots had burned effigies of Sadabhau Khot, the minister of state for agriculture, for allegedly having sold them down the drain. That was surprising because Khot is a member of the SSS, which had been in the forefront of campaigns against the previous Congress-Nationalist Congress government for giving a raw deal to farmers. Along with the Rashtriya Samaj Paksh of Mahadev Jankar, who is minister for animal husbandry and daily development in the Fadnavis government and also in personal conflict with the CM, they were largely responsible for turning farmers’ votes against the Congress-NCP and towards the BJP and Shiv Sena which are not parties normally associated with farmers.

But when Shah visited Mumbai and called a meeting of allies, I was startled to see a rude statement from Shetti, saying, ”Who is Sadabhau Khot? I am the president of my party and I, not Khot, will represent the SSS at the meeting with Shah.’’

As it turns out, this resentment of Shetti towards his own party worker precedes Shah’s visit to Bombay. With various issues like procurement prices, the mismanagement of tonnes and tonnes of tur daal rotting in market yards, the crashing prices of vegetables due to continuing after-effects of demonetisation that also led to the failure of various co-operative banks to extend crop loans to farmers etc, Shetti had been seeking an appointment with Fadnavis for months. But everytime he asked, Fadnavis had no time and directed him to Khot instead.

Now that is akin to a CM in the previous regime asking Sharad Pawar to meet Ajit Pawar to thrash out government matters. Pawar has always been a troublesome ally to the Congress and all the four Congress chief minsters – Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan – were hard put to deal with him. But I always saw them handling Pawar with kid gloves and a lot of tact and diplomacy. In fact, I was in the middle of an interview with Pawar at his residence when I had a glimpse of Deshmukh’s master management of his troublesome ally. Pawar had wanted him to clear a difficult file but when he called Deshmukh, he was told the chief minister was asleep – it was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. So startled was Pawar that he couldn’t help but turn towards me to ask “Can you imagine a CM sleeping in the middle of the day with all the work pending in Mantralaya?’’

Both Pawar and I knew that was not quite true but when his secretary asked if he should leave a message for Deshmukh to call back, Pawar said, “No. Call the deputy chief miniser, instead.”’ Who, at that time, was Chhagan Bhujbal. Quite akin to Fadnavis dodging Shetti and leaving him to Khot but accomplished with much more finesse and political dexterity.

But now the Congress seems to have caught on to Fadnavis’s souring relations with his party’s allies and is waiting in the wings to apply some balm to bruised egos. In a recent interview to the digital channel Hinduworld.com, state party president Ashok Chavan did the unthinkable by throwing his party’s doors wide open to Shetti saying categorically, “Come to us… better late than never.”

The fruit is ripe for the plucking, even if the tree belongs to the BJP. The Congress, obviously, is ready for the harvest.