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Is the Shiv Sena preparing for a hat trick?

The Shiv Sena has smelt an opportunity and come up with the name of Sharad Pawar as a consensus presidential candidate for all parties.

mumbai Updated: May 02, 2017 22:16 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
sujata anandan,sharad pawar,shiv sena
Nationalist Congress Party chief, Sharad Pawar.(HT File)

The Shiv Sena is at it again – playing mischief and bringing its ally, the BJP, to grief. Last month it proposed the name of Mohan Bhagwat for president but when the RSS chief turned down the offer, the party was momentarily stumped and obediently toed the line when Narendra Modi threw a dinner for NDA allies and sought their support for his leadership during the 2019 polls.

It was presumed that the Sena had no choice but to fall in line on the government’s choice of presidential candidate. While the government is still mulling over its possible candidate, the opposition has got into the act to seek a consensus over their own candidate just to test the waters for opposition unity against the BJP for a possible mahagatbandhan in 2019.

However, even before the Congress and other parties, which are in confabulation with each other, could home in on a name for their presidential candidate, the Shiv Sena has smelt an opportunity and come up with the name of Sharad Pawar as a consensus candidate for all parties, including the BJP.

If one looks at the issue closely, the opposition could have no better candidate than Pawar. He is wonderfully networked with most leaders in the country. Farooq Abdullah and Parkash Singh Badal are personal friends, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Navin Patnaik have been seeking advice from him for years. Both the AIADMK and the DMK in Tamil Nadu have dealt with him in the past, Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and K Chandrashekhar Rao in Telangana are not inimical to him but strangely both BS Yedyurappa of the BJP in Karnataka and AK Antony of the Congress in Kerala have a very friendly disposition towards him and might not be averse to persuading their respective parties on his candidature. He also has lasting friendships with Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar and under the present circumstances could be the glue that makes them all stick together.

If he does emerge as the consensus candidate of the opposition, it would not take the Shiv Sena more than a jiffy to desert the BJP for a third time in a row and vote for a non-BJP presidential candidate, after Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee in 2007 and 2012. Its legitimate excuse then would be that they cannot vote against a fellow Marathi manoos to support another candidate of whichever hue he or she may be

Of course, so far both Pawar and the NCP have been quiet on the issue but it is a matter of fact that Pawar has been under a lot of pressure to weave together an alliance of all secular parties and leaders against the BJP. The NCP leaders who wish him to start playing a more active role in national politics after the ennui of the past few years, however, want him to lead this alliance at the grassroots toward the next general elections. But as one of them told me recently, “ Such things do not happen on a whim and in any case it is too early for 2019.’’

But it may be just the right moment to make a bid for July 2017 and the Shiv Sena has been perfect in its timing. Notwithstanding the fact that the NCP is currently on the other side of the spectrum, the Sena is also thinking ahead for the 2019 general elections wherein it knows that there will be no alliance with the BJP which might need Uddhav Thackeray to play along one last time but the gloves are likely to be off after the presidential elections. By supporting Pawar for president, it is buying insurance for the future and the Shiv Sena is preparing early.

However, even if Pawar were not to emerge as a presidential candidate, the Shiv Sena is leading from the front to make sure it survives the BJP’s onslaught after the presidential polls. The Sena is also banking on the fact that Pawar was given the second highest civilian award – the Padma Vibhushan - by the Modi government and Modi might not be inimical to Pawar as president. But I tend to think that the RSS will not allow any of this nonsense to prevail. It has not worked hard for over 50 years to get a government with a full majority to fritter it away on a consensus candidate like Pawar who has always been opposed to their ideology.

But either way, the Sena stands to gain some brownie points with or without a consensus on Sharad Pawar. It will vote for a Marathi manoos again.

First Published: Apr 25, 2017 15:51 IST