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The importance of being Chhagan Bhujbal

He has proved to the BJP, which victimised him, that he is not to be trifled with; and to the NCP, which did not stand by him, that it ignores him at risk to its strength

mumbai Updated: May 30, 2018 00:16 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Chhagan Bhujbal,NCP
Political parties ignore Chhagan Bhujbal at their own peril.(HT FILE)

Sharad Pawar should have really spoken out earlier. Chaggan Bhujbal has been a loyal soldier sticking with Pawar somewhat against his will when he split the Congress; and even when he was humiliatingly demoted from deputy chief minister to just an ordinary minister, simply to accommodate the ambitions of Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar.

Two years in lock-up found him virtually abandoned except for a visit from Pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule in prison and Gopinath Munde’s daughter, Pankaja Munde while he was in the hospital.

When Bhujbal was allowed to vote in the presidential elections last July, a section of the media reported a poignant conversation he had had with Ajit Pawar. “I do not want to die in jail. I want to breathe in some fresh air before I have to go...”

Even so, Pawar did not react immediately. But could it be just a coincidence that no sooner than he warned the government that there will be heavy consequences for it if anything were to happen to Bhujbal in prison, he got bail, which was being resisted for no reason by government authorities all these months?

Whatever be the facts of the case, barely a week after bail Bhujbal — without uttering a single word -- proved he continues to pack a punch and have an upper hand over Nashik, his home turf. He may have lost the last Lok Sabha elections from the constituency due to the Modi wave but there is no one who can win any seat from Nashik without his active support.

At one time, Narayan Rane who, like Bhujbal, had quit the Shiv Sena and joined the Congress only to leave the party in resentment at not being given enough importance, had contemplated contesting a seat to the Maharashtra legislative council from the local autonomous bodies constituency with BJP support. A recce of the region convinced him he needed to bank on more than the fact that chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had adopted Nashik.

Bhujbal still ruled the roost from prison. He continued to keep tabs on his constituency, relentlessly writing letters to the government for the completion of various projects undertaken and letting it know in no uncertain terms that he may be down but not out by any means.

Within days of his release, both the BJP and NCP were left in no doubt about Bhujbal’s clout. The council election had become a prestige issue for all parties, including the Shiv Sena, whose rebel Shivaji Sahane had cocked a snook at the leadership and joined the NCP, simply because he was denied a ticket by the Sena.

Jayant Jadhav, a Bhujbal acolyte, had vacated the seat and instead of backing him again, the NCP, strangely having no candidate of its own, gave the ticket to Sahane and made a prestige issue of the same. Comically, the BJP, which had just been bested by the Congress-led opposition in Karnataka, decided to cut off its nose to spite its face by offering support to the NCP-Congress candidate in a tit-for-tat action towards the Sena which had ambushed it in Palghar at the bypoll held on Monday. The seat belonged to the BJP who, strangely again, chose to give the ticket to a Congress rebel rather than the son of their own deceased MP. In an unprecedented move, the Sena pinched the seat from the BJP, poached the son of Chintaman Wanga and ran him on their ticket despite the BJP’s vociferous protests.

Supporting the Congress-NCP in Nashik was in order to get even with the Sena but at the end of the day, all but the Sena were left with a substantial amount of egg on their faces. There was heavy cross-voting from all parties, including the BJP, in favour of Narendra Darade, the Sena candidate. Even if Bhujbal was nowhere on the scene, recuperating at home, Darade left no one in doubt that he could not have won without his support.

So is Bhujbal likely to join the Shiv Sena? Perhaps not. But he has proved to the BJP, which victimised him, that he is not to be trifled with; and to the NCP, which did not stand by him, that it ignores him at risk to its strength.

Bhujbal was singularly responsible for reducing Bal Thackeray’s clout in the 1990s but now has built his bridges with the GenNext in the Sena, his original party. He has been put through fire but his spirit has not been broken. Political parties ignore Chhagan Bhujbal at their own peril.

First Published: May 30, 2018 00:16 IST