MAHA-CHANAKYA: Uddhav Thackeray is the chief minister and the official leader of the tripartite alliance, but there is no doubt that Sharad Pawar was the power behind the scenes that made it all happen
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
The 78-year-old Chanakya of Indian politics toppled the 80-hour BJP government headed by Devendra Fadnavis and installed Uddhav Thackeray as chief minister at a grand rally on Thursday, November 28, at Shivaji Park. Under tremendous pressure from the family, Ajit Pawar who had extended support of the NCP to the BJP, resigned his position as deputy chief minister. This was closely followed by the resignation of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis paving the way for the revival of the tripartite alliance. Later on Tuesday evening itself Uddhav Thackeray was unanimously elected leader of the tripartite legislative party and invited to form the government
Sharad Pawar proved that he was still the smartest politician in the country. Even Amit Shah was no match for him. When Amit Shah blackmailed Ajit Pawar, nephew of Sharad Pawar, into extending the support of the NCP to the BJP, the real Chanakya turned the tables again. Even though Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in as CM with Ajit Pawar as his deputy, Sharad Pawar did not give up. Even while the tripartite group approached the Supreme Court, Sharad Pawar paraded 162 of the 248 MLAs before a 5-star hotel, giving clear warning that the newly formed BJP government had no chance of winning the floor test.
The message seems to have gone home with a repentant Ajit Pawar resigning his deputy chief minister’s post followed by the resignation of Devendra Fadnavis. The decks were cleared for the original plan of the Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena to come together with Uddhav Thackerey as a leader of the combined Legislative party. Uddhav Thackerey was sworn in as CM on Thursday at 5 pm at Shivaji Park.
The dramatic developments in Maharashtra provide further proof that Amit Shah is not invincible and cannot bribe or blackmail all Opposition parties to capture power.
HOW THE STORY DEVELOPED
Sharad Pawar first managed to get three warring parties — the Shiv Sena, Congress and the NCP — to come together to stake claim to form the government in Maharashtra after the elections as no single party had the required numbers alone and the Shiv Sena-BJP pre-poll alliance was in trouble.
The BJP and Shiv Sena have always been natural allies as they both believe in Hindutva and were very happy with the Supreme Court verdict allotting 2.6 hectares of disputed land in Ayodhya to the Sangh Parivar to build the Ram Temple.
The trouble started when, allegedly at the instigation of his wife, Uddhav Thackeray staked his claim to the chief minister’s post for half the term. It was even publicly announced that Uddhav Thackeray would become the chief minister, even though the Shiv Sena had much fewer seats than the BJP. This was clearly unacceptable to the BJP which, under Chief Ministership Devendra Fadnavis, had launched a number of major projects — including the Bullet Train to Ahmedabad and the super expressway to Nagpur.
Till midnight on Saturday it looked as though Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief, was all set to become the CM with the NCP and Congress extending support. The only dispute that remained was whether the speaker would be from the Congress or the NCP. But Amit Shah was not sitting idle. As in Goa, where despite getting only 13 of the 40 seats the BJP hijacked the government and got Manohar Parrikar installed as the chief minister, Amit Shah did his jadhu tona.
Amit Shah wooed Ajit Pawar, Sharad Pawar’s nephew, who has allegedly always resented living in the shadow of his uncle. Ajit Pawar, who incidentally owns the Gomantak and Gomantak Times in Goa, always had political ambitions of becoming the chief minister of Maharashtra. On the contrary Sharad Pawar was determined that his daughter Supriya Sule, who is currently a member of Parliament, should occupy the seat if an opportunity arose.
Sharad Pawar does not believe in ideologies. He has always been an opportunist. He first became the Chief Minister as the head of the Janata Party by double crossing the Congress in Maharashtra. Subsequently Pawar joined the Congress and occupied senior positions at the Centre including that of defense minister in various Congress-led cabinets. Unfortunately for him, he never got along with Sonia Gandhi. His comments on foreigners aspiring to be PM soured relations between the Italian Gandhi bahu and the Maharashtra spin master. Eventually Pawar once again split from the Congress party and revived the NCP.
‘Chanakya’ Amit Shah had all the weapons like the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax department to persuade the NCP MLAs to support Ajit Pawar rather than his uncle. It is claimed that Ajit Pawar was forced to extend support to the BJP by the threat of reviving charges against him of misappropriating thousands of crores in irrigation schemes. Already several cases filed against Ajit Pawar in the irrigation scam have been withdrawn after he was appointed deputy CM. For Ajit Pawar the choice was allegedly between the deputy chief ministership or jail. Amit Shah also unleashed the Enforcement Directorate against Sharad Pawar. But Sharad Pawar is too much of a veteran to be frightened by the threats of Amit Shah.
It is still not clear whether Ajit Pawar voluntarily decided to extend support to the BJP or was blackmailed into doing so, and we are still confused about what happened on Saturday night, but the fact remains that on Sunday morning Devendra Fadnavis was once again sworn in as chief minister with Ajit Pawar becoming deputy CM. Ajit Pawar insisted that he had uncle Sharad Pawar’s blessings, which both his uncle and his cousin, Supriya Sule, denied.
The swearing-in took place at 8 am on Sunday morning, after President K Kovind withdrew President’s Rule at 5.47 am on the demand of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The swearing-in was done purely on the basis of letters of supports claimed to have been given by Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar to the Maharashtra Governor BS Koshyari. Claiming Ajit Pawar had acted in his individual capacity, Sharad Pawar expelled him from the post of leader of the NCP Legislative Party. Sharad Pawar insisted that the majority of the NCP MLAs continued to support the alliance of the NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena, supposed to be headed by Uddhav Thackerey.
The three party combine of the NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena demanded that the Fadnavis government should be directed to undertake a floor test within 24 hours. Normal convention is that whenever a new chief minister is invited by the governor, he has to prove his majority on the floor of the house. The tripartite alliance moved the Supreme Court demanding that the governor should order a floor test within 24 hours. The Supreme Court in an unusual hearing on a Sunday morning at 11:30 am rejected the appeal of the three-party alliance. However the Supreme Court issued notices to Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar to produce the letters of support on the basis of which they had staked their claim to form the government. The Supreme Court also asked the Fadnavis government to produce the Governor’s order revoking President’s rule.
On Wednesday the NCP in a show of strength paraded 162 MLAs in front of a five star hotel which is well above the 145 seats necessary to prove its majority to stake its claim to form the government. The show of strength by the tripartite group made it clear that the Devendra Fadnavis government had no chance of surviving floor test as the mid way mark is 145. Sharad Pawar had succeeded in persuading the majority of the NCP MLAs to remain with his group.
Fortunately, the Congress in Maharashtra, which had won 45 seats, accepted Pawar’s plan. Unlike in Goa, the Congressmen showed more spine and refused the offers of the BJP. Obviously the tripartite has been able to produce letters of support from 162 MLAs to prove their majority. The Supreme Court had ordered a floor test for the BJP-NCP combine by 5 pm on Wednesday which will now become unnecessary as the tripartite group has already proved its majority. However the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine will have to establish its majority on the floor of the house within the time specified be the Supreme Court.
The ball is in Sharad Pawar’s court. This is the ultimate challenge — will he be able keep the tripartite block of 162 together during the floor test?
ETHICS IN POLITICS?
The larger issue is that Amit Shah and Narendra Modi are acting as pseudo-dictators and not as public functionaries. They have undermined the two most important pillars of the democracy, namely the judiciary and the office of the president. It might have been convenient, but the decision of the Supreme Court to give 2.6 acres of the Babri Masjid disputed land to the majority community did not conform with the spirit of the law. Similarly the revocation of President’s Rule at the unheard of hour of 5:47 am and the immediate swearing in of Fadnavis as the chief minister of Maharashtra by 8 am on Sunday was not in the spirit of democracy. Amit Shah’s hand is clearly seen behind both the Ayodhya judgment and the swearing in of Fadnavis as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, however temporarily.
This is not the first time that Amit Shah has violated the norms of the Constitution. India is a secular democratic republic. Under electoral laws the leader of the party which secures the largest number of seats in the Assembly or Parliamentary elections has to be invited by the governor to become chief minister. The convention has been that if no single party gets a clear majority than the party with the largest number of seats should be invited to form the government.
Addressing the press at the show of strength of 162 MLA outside a 5-star hotel in Mumbai Sharad Pawar remarked tartly that Maharashtra was not Goa. This was a reference to the hijacking of the Goa government by the late Manohar Parrikar even though the BJP has only 13 seats as against the 17 seats won by the Congress.
In the case of Goa the single-largest party rule was violated by the then Goa governor Mridula Sinha as the Congress, which with 17 seats had secured a majority, was not invited to form the government. Instead, enough time was given for horse trading so that the BJP, with only 13 seats could manipulate the majority through opportunistic alliances. Amit Shah was also the mastermind behind the later merger of ten Congress MLAs with the BJP which came soon after the merger of the two MGP MLAs with the BJP.
A similar drama is being played out in Karnataka. The ruling BJP-JDU alliance has a very slender majority. By-elections to 15 seats are due on December 5, which is why Prakash Javadekar issued a letter permitting Karnataka to divert the waters of the Mhadei river and legitimize the Kalasa-Banduri dam. This is to ensure that the BJP wins at least the six seats it needs to continue to be in power in Karnataka.
From the point of view of securing a majority in the Rajya Sabha also, Karnataka is much more important to the Centre than Goa. Though the BJP has a majority in the Lok Sabha it still does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha. This makes it difficult for the BJP to get Constitutional amendments passed which require 2/3rds majority in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The BJP already has all the Rajya Sabha seats in Goa.
Until the Modi government came to power in 2014 all political parties respected Constitutional norms. The only exception was Indira Gandhi who declared an Emergency in 1975 when she was removed from the Lok Sabha after the court found her guilty of corrupt practices. Interestingly the petition was filed by Raj Narain.
But since Modi came to power, blackmail seems to be the favourite weapon of Home Minister Amit Shah who has emerged even more powerful than Narendra Modi.
TOOLS and THREATS
The Home Minister has filed a case against ‘Young Indian’, a private company, which is alleged to have taken over the multi-crore assets of Associated Journals Limited (AJL), an unlisted public company limited by shares — founded by Jawaharlal Nehru and other freedom fighters — which publishes the National Herald.
Dozens of cases have been filed against former Finance Minister Chidambaram by the Income-Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate on charges of money laundering in the telecom case. The former Home Minister has not even been permitted home food and basic comforts which are extended to even small-time goons. The entire Chidambaram family is under attack by Amit Shah. Cases have also been filed against Robert Vadhra, husband of Priyanka Gandhi. In MP cases have been filed against Congress CM Kamal Nath’s nephew.
Clearly Amit Shah is not worried about securing a majority. If the BJP does not get a majority in any Assembly election it can always buy, bully or threaten smaller parties to extend support or even merge with the BJP. This is what happened in Assam and many of the North Eastern states too. Most of the North Eastern states are Christian. With the help of the RSS, the BJP is determined to convert them to Hindutva. The main target of the BJP now is the South where excepting for Karnataka all the other states are ruled by either regional parties or the Congress in Kerala.
Chanakya was the prime minister of King Chandragupta Maurya, considered the last Hindu emperor before the Muslim invasions. The success of Chandrgupta was attributed to Chanakya, his PM. Like Machiavelli’s famous political treatise, The Prince, which spoke about ‘virtu’ and ‘fortuna’, Chanakya wrote the Arthashastra. The primary principle of both Machiavelli and Chanakya was that morality was a liability for princes. Princes and rulers should use any means they wanted to defeat their enemy and remain in power. Sharad Pawar has shown he should be considered the maha-Chanakya of India politics by successfully outmanoeuvring Amit Shah. Pawar’s successful marginalisation of the BJP is all the more significant as he was out of power. Amit Shah even while in power could not finally succeed in establishing BJP government in Maharashtra.