Coming up: A big battle of three against one

Recent events in the state underline both the need to avoid premature obituaries as well as cling to hope in the persona of former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis
UPDATED ON FEB 19, 2020 12:17 AM IST

In politics, veteran Congress leader Digvijaya Singh once said you should never write a political obituary until it is time to write an obituary (tab tak terhavin nahin manana chahiye, jab tak aap vakai mein terhavin nahin manaa lete). Which means never write off a political leader or his party prematurely. A corollary of that is that anyone being written off also should not lose hope of resurrection – miracles do happen, as we have seen recently in Maharashtra.

Recent events in the state underline both the need to avoid premature obituaries as well as cling to hope in the persona of former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. He wrote off Sharad Pawar too soon, but like a true evergreen politician and much in the spirit of Sharad Pawar, he does not lose hope. Last week, he challenged chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to recontest the Assembly elections and see how badly he could be defeated.

Now that is unlikely to happen because, firstly, the next election is nearly five years away and cannot be advanced at the whims and fancies of defeated politicians. Secondly, in Maharashtra now the basics are quite different. It is three against one in the state.

Moreover, in realpolitik terms, Fadnavis forgets that at least 15 of the BJP’s 105 MLAs belong to other parties, particularly the NCP and are already beginning to chafe at the bit. I am told olive branches have already been sent to Pawar who is in no hurry to readmit the recalcitrant MLAs to his party. He has asked them to stay away from him for at least six months before he decides their futures because he has some bigger business to get through – namely the impending elections to the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation.

Now the NMMC is likely to prove to be an interesting case study. The corporation is under the control of Ganesh Naik who had earlier quit the Shiv Sena to join the NCP in the decade of the 2000s to be on the right side of the ruling dispensation. He was richly rewarded by Pawar for that act with ministerial berths and given complete charge of running the NMMC which Naik won against all odds in 2014 after the BJP won both the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. But by 2019, he needed to be on the winning side again and so days before the Assembly polls, despite the cajoling and persuasions by the Pawar trio (daughter and nephew included), he switched sides to the BJP, hoping that would lead to an easy victory in the municipal corporation.

But now with weeks to the local polls he finds the boot on the other foot, with an exodus of his supporters already beginning towards the NCP. They have cited their substantial Dalit and Muslim vote banks as likely to go against them if they continue with the BJP and it remains to be seen if Naik is able to stem the tide or himself joins the bandwagon. If he does the latter, the election could be a foregone conclusion. If he sticks by the BJP, it will still remain an uphill task for the party, for then both the Shiv Sena and the NCP will have reason to defeat Naik with the Congress playing along for the few crumbs that might come its way in a municipal corporation that has always eluded it even when it was the leading party in power.

The BJP has already lost a series of smaller elections and by-elections to the trio in the past months, but the NMMC is likely to prove the bigger test of its endurance both, in terms of party hoppers and voter connect against the might of three parties in government. The results will set the tone for shifting loyalties and return of prodigals. Which is why I think Fadnavis could have been somewhat more circumspect in daring Uddhav Thackeray to fight him again at the Assembly polls.

His dare (himmat asel tar... if you have the guts) has already caused a lot of mirth on social media, with Twitter users turning the dare on him. The ridicule does not do him or his party any good. Like Pawar, he needs to learn the virtue of patience in politics. And cease writing political obituaries before they are due.

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