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Will Sharad Pawar pull off two coalitions?

I suspect Sharad Pawar is behind ragtag coalitions.

mumbai Updated: Jan 31, 2018 01:09 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sharad Pawar was biding his time for the circumstances to be right to make his moves.
Sharad Pawar was biding his time for the circumstances to be right to make his moves. (HT File)

This Republic day, the political needle seems to have shifted by some degrees again with all sorts of ragtag coalitions giving notice that they might come together in two formations. I suspect Sharad Pawar is behind them all, including the Shiv Sena which has given notice to its ally that it will chart its own course at the next elections.

Much is being made of the Sena’s announcement last week about going it alone to the polls — but it was last Republic Day that Uddhav had taken a solemn oath to never again ally with the BJP. That statement, however, was lost in the rhetoric of the high octane civic polls which the Sena won against the BJP by the skin of its teeth. Since then, though, he and his close advisers have been in touch with Pawar, both covertly and overtly, and the strategy to morally destabilise its ally while continuing to prop it up on crutches has ‘Pawar’ written all over it.

But what is more significant is the Save Constitution rally that brought together not just warring political parties — like the Trinamool Congress and the Left — but also large sections of diverse people without any organised mobilisation. It was obvious that Pawar had silently put the rally together but what was even more significant is that the BJP was isolated in its counter Tiranga rally — it had neither the Shiv Sena nor other constituents of the NDA joining its ranks with Telegu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu too giving warning of going it alone if need be.

Cut to Odisha. It is significant that Pawar, who was a close friend of Biju Patnaik and had allied with the Biju Janata Dal during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, chose to stay away from the release event of a book on chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s father. But leaders of all those parties who may have trouble allying with the Congress, like the Left which had vetoed Sitaram Yechury’s proposal to go with the Congress and former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, Pawar’s close friend, were. A day later, Pawar invited all opposition parties to his residence in New Delhi to discuss “floor management” in parliament.

Now floor management has often led to loose or close alliances in this country and it does not take much to deduce that preparations are already underway to forge an alliance of like-minded parties opposed to the BJP, albeit in two formations — one led by the Congress and the other as a Third Front with Pawar being the master puppeteer stringing them all along.

I could see this coming a long time ago and I was sure Pawar was biding his time for the circumstances to be right to make his moves. In many ways, the moving needle of time has helped him emerge as the force multiplier of these two future coalitions, Nitish Kumar’s exit being a major bonus. Sonia Gandhi’s retirement leaves Pawar fully in charge of the coalition, Rahul Gandhi still being too raw and inexperienced for older leaders outside the Congress to be comfortable under his leadership.

This arrangement of two coalitions also sorts out the dilemma of the Left and Trinamool Congress (they can now ally with a different formation each) and the same is likely to work vis-à-vis the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party with Mayawati still inimical to allying with the former, despite Akhilesh Yadav’s conciliatory overtures to her.

That seems to leave only the Shiv Sena out on a limb, given its extreme positions on various issues including on Hindutva. But not really, if one looks closer. To the Shiv Sena, the importance of elections go in reverse order from bottom to top. It cannot afford to ever lose the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections which would be a good three years away from 2019 and the Lok Sabha is not of much consequence to its politics. Winning the assembly would be a bonus but not crucial to its survival. So it is likely to come to unofficial arrangements with the NCP, which will make official arrangements with the Congress and no one will be wiser to the covert alliance with the Sena.

So where does all this leave the ruling party? Thinking that the combined opposition is trying to drown its voice, as chief minister Devendra Fadnavis avowed during the Tiranga Yatra or relieved as the party’s national leaders were when Prakash Karat of the CPI(M) said Hindutva was not such a threat to India, after all? There are many miles to go yet and positions could change overnight. But the master bugler has sounded the Reveille. It is a wake up call for all.