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Amit Shah Vs Sharad Pawar: The war of Chanakyas

NCP leader Sharad Pawar has been through more political skirmishes than he might care to remember, and the recent state polls were the best Houdini moment to date. He was in the thick of things, a facilitator for an unlikely alliance — bringing Congress and Sena into a power embrace.

Nov 24, 2019, 10.39 AM IST
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Union home minister Amit Shah TNN
Union home minister Amit Shah (File photo)
(This story originally appeared in on Nov 24, 2019)
NEW DELHI: Not all his plans have worked — in Maharashtra defections from NCP and Congress did not yield anticipated results — but BJP president Amit Shah has developed a reputation for political surgical strikes and events in Mumbai are a testimony to that.

BJP failed to win the number of seats it might have hoped for, and the lower tally encouraged fickle ally Shiv Sena to dramatically up the stakes, demanding a split term for chief minister and a 50:50 sharing of portfolios. Faced with the belligerent ally, Shah decided there would be no deal and held back his fire power.

He was up against another “Chanakya” of politics, one with a long record of confounding foes and surprising friends. NCP leader Sharad Pawar has been through more political skirmishes than he might care to remember, and the recent state polls were the best Houdini moment to date. After being battered by the Modi wave in the Lok Sabha election, NCP managed a smart comeback in its base of western Maharashtra.

If a haul of 54 MLAs, 10 more than Congress, was a matter of satisfaction, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s burning ambition opened doors that Pawar may not have anticipated. He was in the thick of things, a facilitator for an unlikely alliance — bringing Congress and Sena into a power embrace. Just then, his plans were derailed by a blow from within, as nephew Ajit Pawar struck in concert with BJP.

Ajit Pawar’s action had the finger prints of Shah, who was determined to teach Sena a lesson. Whether the move comes off is yet unclear, but a battle of epic proportions is under way as Shah and Pawar clash for the seat of power in Mumbai. The numbers game may well be a matter of nerves. Shah has an edge being in office, but NCP MLAs will find it hard to ignore Pawar’s looming stature.

As the Sena-NCP-Congress talks progressed towards conclusion, a puzzled buzz circulated in Delhi. Why was BJP quietly acquiescing to a Sena-led take over of Maharashtra? The answer came by way of the early morning swearing-in of Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar as CM and deputy CM respectively.

BJP sources said the party was hopeful of a rapprochement with Sena and the survival of “mahayuti” they had formed but were also reaching out elsewhere. “A party leader was in the constant touch with an NCP faction that was strongly opposed to joining hands with Sena. NCP leaders had reservations about instability in case of alliance with Congress and Sena,” a senior BJP leader said.

BJP’s instructions to its leaders to refrain from attacking Sena leaders and the decision not to contest the BMC mayoral polls was a gesture, but one that went abegging. Once Congress signalled its willingness to a coalition with NCP and Sena, BJP moved, even as Ajit Pawar’s unease and differences with uncle Sharad Pawar grew.

Despite their pronouncements, there were sharp differences between Congress and NCP over the Speaker’s post and this strengthened Ajit Pawar’s arguments that only BJP will offer a stable government.

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