Maharashtra politics is going through a churning process. While Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has consolidated his position, dealing deftly with Maratha and Dalit agitations and cultivating a pro-industry image, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar is growling against the BJP, not sparing its Central leadership, while the Shiv Sena continues to maintain that it would not tie up with the BJP in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
When the BJP fell short of a majority in the last Assembly polls in 2019 and had the NCP propping up the minority government from outside with the Shiv Sena deciding to support it after a month of vacillation, many were apprehensive of lack of stability.
Fadnavis, however, justified the trust placed in him by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah who bypassed other, seemingly stronger aspirants. He first wooed the strongly-aggrieved farmers through loan waivers and then defusing Maratha and Dalit agitations while also assiduously wooing industry. Politically, the NCP’s initial flush of ambition was checked and simultaneously, the Shiv Sena’s wings were clipped without rubbing its leaders on the wrong side beyond a point.
Now, however, with the elections less than an year away, the NCP and Sena are both waking up to hard realities of their limited regeneration and the need to sound more aggressive against the current establishment led by the BJP.
Sharad Pawar’s tone and tenor has turned increasingly shrill in recent days even as he flirts with the Opposition at the Central level. His uneventful unanimous re-election as party president at the NCP plenary was marked by his strong attack on the Narendra Modi government on Sunday, citing the worsening condition of Dalits, minorities and women in the country under the BJP rule. He lashed out at Prime Minister Modi, questioning the “talkative” PM’s silence on key public issues.
Pawar realises that time is running out for him with his none-too-bright health and wants to make one last-ditch effort to control the levers of power either at the Centre or in the State. He is not prepared to play second fiddle to new Congress boss Rahul Gandhi but would rather try leading an Opposition combine himself if possible.
Pawar has been known to cultivate politicians of all hues and is hoping that he could emerge as a consensus candidate of the Opposition in the event of a hung Parliament in 2019. That is a strong reason he has given up on the BJP which has a charismatic and wily leader in Modi who is still young by Indian political standards.
The Maratha strongman thinks poorly of Rahul Gandhi and knows that the so-called ‘loyalty’ to him of Congressmen is all too superficial.
At the other end of the spectrum in Maharashtra politics is the Shiv Sena which is extremely wary of BJP’s enhanced clout and desperately wants to arrest its rise. Even as Pawar was waxing eloquent on the BJP’s misdeeds in Mumbai, the Sena was playing out its own brand of BJP-baiting.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut wrote in his latest weekly piece in the party mouthpiece Saamna that the Fadnavis government was running on Sena’ support but was living a “post-divorce” life. He wrote that while in 2014 it was incumbent on the BJP to take Sena’s support, it is now Sena’s compulsion not to be with the BJP in 2019.
Raut claimed that if the Sena takes a stand (on anything), the BJP takes exactly the opposite of it. He added that the current state government was a good example of how alliance partners in the government should not be.
At one time, Raj Thackeray’s MNS was well disposed towards Modi. But of late even he has turned hawkishly hostile toward the BJP, seeing that his party is not growing.
With Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray both flexing their muscles, the battle lines are drawn between the BJP and rival parties. Fadnavis would need all his tact and political acumen to ward off the challenge to him in Maharashtra. The central BJP also needs a good showing in the state to return to power with a strong possibility of a fall in its tally in some states.
The die is cast for a key battle.