"The NCP has proved it once again that they can sacrifice secular principles for the sake of political convenience" - Ratnakar Mahajan, Congress leader
During Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s tenure, the Jain Hawala scandal rocked the political circles in Delhi. The late Vitthalrao Gadgil, then a Congress spokesperson known for his studious and witty comments, had an uneasy relationship with his party colleague Sharad Pawar. During a press conference at the Congress headquarters, a journalist asked him, “You have been critical of Sharad Pawar and his ways of politics, but his name doesn’t appear in the Jains' diary. How do you see this fact?” Gadgil, with his usual calm, replied, “I don’t know much about the way this hawala business [is run] but the only thing I know is that it operates on the principle of trust.” The trust deficit associated with Pawar, it seems, haunts his party, too.
Maharashtra legislative council witnessed an unprecedented event on March 16. A no-confidence motion against the chairman was moved for the first time in its history. Shivajirao Deshmukh of the Congress was removed as chairman of the house, following the motion moved by the NCP. Twenty-eight members of the NCP, 12 of the BJP and five independents voted in favour of the motion while 22 members of the Congress voted against it; the Shiv Sena abstained from voting. The motion was moved by the NCP on the last day of the winter session in December 2014 and it was taken up during the budget session this year. The reason cited then was the delay in announcing Dhananjay Munde of the NCP as the leader of opposition. Deshmukh, however, had announced Munde’s appointment during the December session. The NCP only wanted its man on the chair.
Said Sunil Tatkare, state NCP president: “We had nothing personal against Deshmukh but we were against the Congress leadership that was giving him wrong advice.” The BJP is happy, as its leader Ashish Shelar said, the motion exposed the rift between the opposition parties. Ratnakar Mahajan, a Congress spokesperson, however, said, “The Congress and the NCP had split six months ago, before the elections. This motion has once again exposed that the NCP and the BJP are together and working to benefit each other.” Harshavardhan Patil of the Congress said that the NCP cadre is confused as they don't understand whether the party is against the BJP or the Congress. To add to this confusion, Pawar, with his MPs, walked down to the residence of Manmohan Singh, who has been summoned in the coal scam case, on March 17 to express solidarity.
NCP workers in Maharashtra have been a confused lot since the elections, and had openly questioned the party leadership of its real political agenda at the two-day brainstorming session in Pune on February 7 and 8. Ravindra Pagar, president of the Nashik district unit of the NCP, said, “I was asked to speak on behalf of all the district presidents and I clearly said that there are many so-called state-level leaders who have no value or following in their hometowns, but who help local leaders of the BJP and the Shiv Sena during elections.” He said that he hoped that the newly formed discipline committee will take care of such brokers of power.
The brainstorming session confused the workers even more. Senior NCP leaders Chhagan Bhujbal, Jitendra Awhad and Jayant Patil criticised the governments at the Centre and the state during the session. But a week later, Pawar and Modi were seen praising each other in Baramati.
“The NCP’s political decisions are no more based on ideology,” said Mahajan. “They have proved it once again that they can sacrifice secular principles for the sake of political convenience.” The Congress feels this is Pawar's usual ploy to stay close to power. “After the defeat of the Congress in 1977, Pawar broke away and formed the Indian Congress (Socialist) to get closer to the Jana Sangh and the Janata Party. Ajit Pawar is simply following in his uncle's footsteps,” said a Congress leader. “Though secular leaders like Bhujbal and Awhad will feel suffocated while staying closer to the BJP, they will continue to be with the NCP due to their own political compulsions.” The on-going investigations in the civil aviation ministry and the court cases in irrigation and PWD projects have forced the NCP to lean on the BJP, he said.
Said Ulhas Pawar, a senior Congress leader: “Many NCP leaders have told me privately that they don’t approve of the NCP getting closer to the BJP. Now, with the deep penetration of the media, even ordinary workers in rural areas have become aware and have started questioning their local leaders about such ideological and unethical flip-flops by the senior leadership.” During social functions like weddings, workers from all political parties meet and NCP workers become the butt of all jokes for their party's ever-changing stance.
Anant Gadgil, a Congress spokesperson, said he was more amazed by the BJP’s desperation. “Fadanvis, when asked by a regional channel before elections, had said the BJP will never take help of or help the NCP,” he said. “But the BJP even formed the government on the NCP’s unilateral support.” He said the BJP has always tried to marginalise its alliance partners and that it wanted to finish the Shiv Sena. “By announcing the NCP’s support unilaterally to the BJP even before the election results were announced, Pawar had succeeded in marginalising the Shiv Sena and [reduced] its bargaining strength with the the BJP,” said Gadgil.
Although the Shiv Sena has formally joined the government now, Uddhav Thackeray and his ministers have been bitterly critical of the the BJP’s decisions and policies. “To retain its single-handed rule over the Rs30,000 crore BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation, the Shiv Sena is compelled to keep criticising the BJP government. It will eventually fight the corporation elections alone and in that case, the BJP will need the NCP to support the state government,” said Gadgil.
But, as a senior leader of the NCP women's wing put it, the ordinary workers are unable digest such acts of convenience. They get confused and even outraged at times when they get teased or laughed at for the decisions of the senior leadership, and this could cost the NCP heavily in future.
* At the brainstorming session in Pune in February, senior leaders criticised the BJP governments at the Centre and state. A week later, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were seen praising each other at an event in Baramati.
* NCP's Praful Patel praises the railway budget saying Suresh Prabhu withstood the pressure of populism and has focused on bringing railways back to financial health, even as the Shiv Sena, the BJP's ally, slammed the budget saying there was nothing extraordinary in it.
* NCP and BJP join hands to unseat Congress leader Shivajirao Deshmukh as chairman of the Maharashtra Legislative Council. A day later, Pawar and NCP MPs visit Manmohan Singh, summoned in the coal scam case, to show solidarity.