Will the Maharashtra government last beyond the civic polls this week?
Myriad statements emanating from various political parties make one wonder. But my natural cynicism about politicians leads me to believe only two things might happen after results in Thursday – either chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’s chair will be somewhat shaken in case the BJP does not score over the Shiv Sena or else Uddhav Thackeray will finally pipe down and behave like a good boy for the remaining three-odd years of this government.
It is always very difficult to predict poll results with any certainty but in this high-octane campaign by both parties, the stakes are obvious. The BJP had a lot more visibility and resources than either the Shiv Sena or the Congress. But, as ever, it is the Sena cadres who have come through again for their party chief.
It has been noticed by many people, media personalities as well as common voters, that Uddhav Thackeray may have finally overcome the barrier that was built around him by his father’s contemporaries who had earlier hated the thought of bowing to the son and grandson after the Sena tiger. While they may still have reservations about the young Aaditya Thackeray, they have finally accepted -- and perhaps even secretly admire -- Uddhav for achieving what his father never could. Quite on his own with just 15 days to go, he managed to win half the seats the BJP did during the 2014 Assembly polls. Even Bal Thackeray proved troublesome to senior BJP leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani, but he never managed to get under their skin the manner in which Uddhav has succeeded with the second generation leaders. This has been achieved without resort to any sort of violence though he did call them goondas and asked his Shiv Sainiks to plant the saffron standard on their chests .To old-timers, this was evocative of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s guerilla tactics. So many of these old-timers were seen getting out of their comfort zones and going door-to-door to campaign in the best tradition of cadres who never fail their leaders in their hour of need.
Which makes one wonder why the BJP cadres have failed Fadnavis. It was startling to see not a single soul occupying the rows upon rows of chairs neatly arranged for his meeting at Sadashivpeth in Pune on Saturday. The area is a bastion of the BJP and the party cadres should not have found it too difficult to persuade nearby residents to crowd the meeting. Fadnavis waited more than 30 minutes for some people to speak to and walked off in a huff when no one came to listen. I am told by BJP supporters that their absence would not make much of a difference to the poll outcome, but it does point to the people’s ennui with the BJP or Fadnavis (or both) and does not portend well for the future.
Of course, the only leader who seems to have got electrifying crowds at his rallies is, strangely, Raj Thackeray who was written off weeks before the polls as a cipher. But the problem of plenty in both the Sena and the BJP – which had to accommodate many defectors from both the Congress and the NCP -- changed his fortunes. Disappointed workers from these parties sought tickets from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, but Raj is now mostly banking on his party’s performance in Nashik, where the MNS was the ruling party, to convince voters that he means business and will not go back on promises for petty political considerations.
However, it is not just the results of Maharashtra’s civic polls, but that of the UP Assembly, which could determine the fate of the Maharashtra government. For there is a loose cannon in the field – Sharad Pawar. The NCP president has sworn not to prop up the BJP government in case the Sena pulls support – but ultimately his decision will depend upon what he thinks would be more beneficial to his interest.
Pawar may choose to keep his friendship with Narendra Modi going in case of a victory for the BJP. In case of an opposite verdict, he could take his chances at the hustings for there is a general belief that the BJP will not do as well in Maharashtra at the next election, now or in 2019.
And Pawar has been missing his control of Maharashtra. He has also been talking of like-minded parties coming together to defeat the BJP. Pawar is readying the pitch. Can Fadnavis then save his wicket?