Breaking up the Shiv Sena
When Ajit Pawar, Sharad Pawar’s nephew, was made Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, I had much to say about it, both in my column which appears Wednesdays in the Mumbai edition of the Hindustan Times and on my blog here.
As I pontificated about it to my friends, one of them told me, “Oh, Ajit’s there for some break-ups. He was always the first among equals in the Nationalist Congress Party. But he does not have the capacity to build. He’s there only to break wile his uncle builds. So he’s been duly authorised for the purpose.’’
Of course, my friend explained to me at length what he meant and I can see now a few weeks later that he was absolutely right.
Ajit can never expand the NCP – that job is still clearly just Sharad Pawar’s. But he certainly seems to be facilitating a build up by the Maratha warlord. The NCP has not been growing in the past few years and at the moment is confined to Western Maharashtra. The Maratha vote is pretty evenly split between the Congress and the NCP and then between the Congress-NCP and the Shiv Sena-BJP on the other side.
The surreptitious removal of a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s teacher Dadoji Konddeo from prominent display in Pune and the resolution by the Pune Municipal Corporation to replace it with a statue of Shivaji’s father Shahaji was entirely guided by Ajit Pawar.
And the Shiv Sena, the original (self-appointed) custodian of the Shivaji legacy, fell right into the trap. The battle was first seen as one between Marathas and Brahmins (Dadoji Konddeo, in the best traditions of ancient gurus was Brahmin, after all), but it was soon clear that Ajit was essentially trying to break up the Sena’s core base of those who identify with the Maratha warrior king and thus, by extension, with the Shiv Sena.
Apart from the fiasco of the taped conversation between a close aide of Sena working president Uddhav Thackeray and a local Sena leader that had people in both jitters and titters, the Sena soon realised that it was more than just loyalties that Ajit pawar was now attempting to break up.
For, in just over a week, he had pulled off another breakup – by drawing a committed Sena leader, Kiran Pawaskar, to the NCP. And Pawaskar brings to the NCP something that is again core to the Sena support base – workers in the aviation sector where so far the Sena has had a very strong trade union.
Unconfirmed reports have suggested for years that Bal Thackeray and Sharad Pawar have had a pact for years – that Pawar will look out for Thackeray’s son, Uddhav, who has been under severe attack from his cousin Raj and former Shiv Sainiks like Narayan Rane who have threatened to wipe out the Sena voter base since they quit their original party. But what neither Raj nor Rane could achieve, Ajit seems to have done with ease and far more intelligence.
I do not think Uddhav is up to matching Ajit’s skills in this regard and the threat is very real. It is obvious to the NCP that it cannot eat further into the Congress base and the BJP’s vote bank is a strict no-no. The only fall back they have is the Marathi asmita (pride) vote bank that has been the Sena’s core for over 40 years and there seems to be no one left in that party to intercept the NCP’s moves and nip them in the bud.
For Ajit this is a make or break battle – he knows he is unacceptable as the supreme leader to many in the NCP. But if his breakup activities help to expand the NCP’s reach across Maharashtra, he might just gain an edge wherein other hostile NCP colleagues would not dare raise a voice against him (today they all say, sotto voce and rather contemptuously, that all he has going for him is the fact that he is Sharad Pawar’s nephew).
Such subtleties, though, are beyond the Thackerays — they are far simpler and less nuanced than the Pawars. So far as Balasaheb goes, a promise given is a promise kept. Too bad that the promise this time was given by Sharad Pawar – who always breaks every promise made, even to his mentors.
What’s more, he also breaks parties — usually his own. This time, though, he seems determined to break up the Shiv Sena.
Do Balasaheb and Uddhav, then, have a chance at all against this break-up duo?