If you have been in outer space the last few weeks, you probably missed the best live political drama on earth, right now. Thrown into the entertainment mix were sulking scions, ambitious scions, old godfathers, new political fixers, break-ups, betrayals, alliances, and the most incredulous alignment of political forces. It was a mix of the
Godfather, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Lion King, with a smattering of the Ekta Kapoor soaps.
At the centre of the political manoeuvrings was the grand old man of Indian politics – Sharad Pawar. He showed that it wasn’t just the age and experience but the mileage of political life, and political favours that mattered. In the political ring with him was Amit Shah, the master puppeteer of the BJP who had a knack of installing governments with a simple maxim: “I will make you a deal you can’t refuse”, to win over the numbers needed to rule. This giant game of political chess was played between the two, with the rest — Uddhav Thackeray and the Shiv Sena, and Sonia Gandhi and the Congress bringing up the supporting cast.
At the core was the question: who would be the Chief Minister of Maharashtra? Uddhav Thackeray, who felt entitled to be the CM, possibly because he believes that his father’s legacy is enough to get him there or Devendra Fadnavis, the outgoing Chief Minister of the state. There were side stories of estranged cousins, silent leaders, and sulking nephews. Ajit Pawar tried to break the NCP by aligning with the BJP in a midnight dash to power, but it looks like Sharad Pawar won that battle, possibly also settling who inherits the mantle after his time — his daughter or his nephew.
Sharad Pawar has shown that he may be old, but his political instincts and ruthlessness are as sharp as ever. He is undoubtedly the man of the match. But who are the losers?
The first is definitely the BJP. It has not just lost its oldest ally, the Shiv Sena, it has also lost the state of Maharashtra for now. But, it has also lost more than that. It has lost a bit of its sheen amongst its own supporters in the rather unseemly haste in aligning with Ajit Pawar to form the government. If you remember, Ajit Pawar was most famous for asking farmers complaining about the drought situation and the release of water from dams, whether he should urinate in the dams to provide water. He apologised later but the damage was done. This, of course, was in addition to the many cases of corruption that are pending against him.
The Indian National Congress has lost its sheen on secularism and secularistic principles with its alignment with the Shiv Sena. It has also been reduced to a junior partner in Maharashtra, and a triparty alliance at the next polls will see the seats it contests shrink further. While Baburao Thorat has managed to keep the Maharashtra Congress from falling apart, there doesn’t seem to be enough ideological difference between it and the BJP in Maharashtra to keep its people going. It has to find a radical new strategy to build the party ground up.
It is a bit early to understand whether the Sena is a winner or a loser in these circumstances. But, it needs to answer what does it stand for. Is it still a party that believes in Hindutva? Is it going to double down on its Maratha antecedents and become the voice of the Marathas? Is it going to imitate its origins and look at the trade union space? How does it see itself divorced from the BJP? While in politics there is no point saying never, it looks unlikely that the BJP and the SS will kiss and make up anytime soon.
Finally, there is also a lesson for Congress in all this. Power is not gifted; it has to be fought for. DK Shivkumar in Karnataka showed them that in a battle they lost. And, Sharad Pawar has just pulled out all stops to win power including aligning with the Shiv Sena. And, that is the kind of political instinct the INC needs. Its older generation has become backroom operators, and its younger generation doesn’t seem to have the fire in their belly to win elections. Mr Pawar is whoever he wants to be — the master of backroom politics, the ardent campaigner, and with still fire in the belly to want to win. The INC will do no better than call for a merger and get Mr Pawar back as their president.
Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences. Read Harini Calamur's columns