Rajat Sharma

Pawar Politics: An Inside Story

AKBToday I want to share with you the secret about what happened on that fateful night in 2019, when in a midnight drama, BJP and NCP leader Ajit Pawar suddenly joined hands to form a coalition government, after the Maharashtra assembly elections. The government lasted only for three days.

I will try to unravel why Pawar’s relations with BJP soured, whether Pawar ditched the BJP at the last moment and why. On Wednesday, Pawar gave broad indications about those mysterious developments. He indirectly admitted why he backed out from his deal with the BJP. His remarks clearly indicate it was he who ditched Devendra Fadnavis after he was sworn in with his nephew in Raj Bhavan.

For the first time, it has come to light that the political developments that took place that midnight and afterwards, were carefully scripted, by none other than the old, political veteran Sharad Pawar. It was Pawar who wrote this interesting script. Two sentences that Pawar said at a press conference in Pimpri-Chinchwad on Wednesday, have set the cat out of the bag.

Pawar, in his cryptic remarks, said, BJP’s attempt to form a post-midnight government with his nephew and NCP leader Ajit Pawar in 2019 had one benefit, as “it ended President’s Rule in the state”.

Asked by a reporter about BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis’s claim that the formation of the three-day old government with Ajit Pawar had the backing of the NCP supremo, Sharad Pawar replied: “there was an attempt to form a government. One benefit of that exercise was that it helped lift President’s rule in Maharashtra. Everyone saw what happened after that.”

When the reporter pointedly asked whether he was aware about the formation of that government, Sharad Pawar replied: “There is no need to speak about it. I just said, had this sort of exercise not taken place, would President’s Rule have been lifted? And, had the President’s Rule not been lifted, could Uddhav Thackeray take oath as chief minister?” Asked if he was hinting that he knew that Ajit Pawar was going to form a government with BJP, Sharad Pawar replied: “Somebody recently said that only one person (meaning, Sharad Pawar) is responsible for anything that happens in Maharashtra.”

Interesting remarks, surely. Pawar only stopped short of saying that it was he who sent his nephew Ajit Pawar to meet Fadnavis to stage a false drama of ‘revolt’ in NCP, and three days later, it was Pawar who caused the fall of the government. Pawar wanted to indirectly say that it was because of his well-coordinated gambit that BJP government fell, and a new alliance between Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP emerged as Maha Vikas Aghadi. Uddhav Thackeray became chief minister. Pawar was clearly giving a message that he beat BJP in the political game.

I would like to unravel the inside story about developments that took place from October 24 till November 23, 2019. The only missing link is why Sharad Pawar maintained silence for three years and why did he reveal this now. Is there a new game plan at work behind Pawar’s disclosure? Pawar’s remarks at the press conference, though not directly admitting that he was aware of the exercise, were loaded with political meanings.

Pawar was referring to the dramatic events that took place on the intervening night of November 23, 2019, when the Centre lifted President’s Rule at midnight, and Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, at an early dawn ceremony in Raj Bhavan, sworn in Fadnavis as chief minister and Ajit Pawar as deputy chief minister. The government fell after three days and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was later sworn in as chief minister with the backing of NCP and Congress, as leader of Maha Vikas Aghadi. After the 2019 assembly elections, Shiv Sena and BJP fell apart over the issue of who should become the chief minister.

Reacting to Sharad Pawar’s remarks, Devendra Fadnavis told reporters in Mumbai, “If Pawar Saheb has explained about lifting of President’s Rule, he should also explain on whose insistence was it imposed in the first place. Who wanted President’s rule to be imposed, and why was it imposed, are question he must also answer. If he can clarify these points, then all links can be connected and people will come to know the exact timeline of events. Pawar Saheb should reveal more details.”

What Pawar revealed is not the whole truth. His claim that he wanted President’s Rule to be lifted to clear the way for Uddhav Thackeray to be made CM is not true. The inside story is slightly different.

On October 23, 2019, the final results came in Maharashtra assembly elections, and the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance scored a thumping majority. The next day, Uddhav Thackeray staked his claim for chief ministership for a period of two and a half years. BJP did not agree. Pawar felt that his party NCP could ally with BJP and form a government. He was confident that Congress would never support Uddhav Thackeray, and any non-BJP government was impossible without a grouping of three parties, Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP coming together. Pawar sent an offer to Fadnavis, and entrusted negotiations to his nephew Ajit Pawar.

The NCP supremo said, he could not publicly speak about allying with BJP, hence President’s Rule be imposed first. He said, he would tour the entire state and create an atmosphere by telling people that a stable coalition government with BJP was necessary. His proposal was that President’s Rule could be lifted after two weeks, and a coalition government between BJP and NCP could be formed. The deal was that Fadnavis would become CM and Ajit Pawar would be the Deputy CM. In other words, Sharad Pawar was quite willing for a coalition government between both parties. On the other hand, Pawar kept Uddhav Thackeray in suspense.

The question now arises: When Ajit Pawar was made Deputy CM, why did Sharad Pawar make a U-turn? Why did he oppose BJP and opted for Uddhav Thackeray? But, first let me tell what Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said on Wednesday. Sanjay Raut said, “ Centre had imposed President’s Rule, and the rulers in Delhi did not want a Maha Vikas Aghadi government to take shape. Their arrangement was solid. So long as there was President’s Rule, no coalition government could be formed. We were worried. Even if we had proved our majority on the floor, the governor sitting in Raj Bhavan at that time (Bhagat Singh Koshyari) could have dragged on the majority test issue for five years. It was because of the early morning swearing-in that President’s Rule was lifted and the Governor’s rule was removed within 24 minutes. That paved the way for Maha Vikas Aghadi government. Whatever Pawar Saheb has said is true. It will take one hundred births to understand Sharad Pawar’s mind. I said it earlier too, and there were several comments against me at that time.”

Sanjay Raut is right. It will take one hundred births to understand Sharad Pawar’s political games. BJP was caught in Pawar’s game, and Uddhav Thackeray too. Nobody could realize that it was Pawar who had scripted the game. What Pawar revealed on Wednesday could be a step for his next political gambit. In order to understand this, we require a brief flashback.

Let us go through the timeline of those fateful days of 2019. The picture will become clear.

On October 30, Sanjay Raut claimed that if BJP did not agree to make Uddhav the CM, Shiv Sena will form a government on its own.
On November 2, Sharad Pawar spoke to Uddhav Thackery.
On November 4, Pawar said, people have given majority to BJP and Shiv Sena, they should form government, and NCP will sit in the opposition. At that time, the acting government of Fadnavis was there as the outgoing assembly’s tenure was till November 9.
By November 8, all secret negotiations between Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were complete, and the same day, Fadnavis resigned.
On November 11, Uddhav Thackeray announced Shiv Sena was walking out of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. According to information that I have, Fadnavis wanted to form a government the next day with Ajit Pawar, but Sharad Pawar put his foot down. He said, he could not publicly support any alliance with BJP, and that he needed 15 days’ time to tour Maharashtra, and after putting up a façade of popular opinion, he would announce that NCP will support BJP. Sharad Pawar wanted imposition of President’s Rule till that time.
On November 12, President’s Rule was imposed, but during twelve days, developments occurred which Pawar did not expect. Congress President Sonia Gandhi gave her green signal for support to Shiv Sena. Pawar then realized that it would be more advantageous for NCP to ally with Shiv Sena and Congress, rather than with BJP. This would give him greater control over the coalition government. Pawar started work on Maha Vikas Aghadi.

The question now arises: If Pawar had made up his mind to accept Uddhav as CM, why did he send his nephew Ajit to be sworn in with Fadnavis early that morning? Was it to ensure removal of President’s Rule, as Pawar claimed on Wednesday?

Let me reveal what happened. Sharad Pawar did not send his nephew to meet Fadnavis. That night, Ajit Pawar had revolted. He had completed all negotiations with Fadnavis on how to run a coalition government. But Ajit Pawar realized that his uncle had now changed his mind, and he wanted a coalition government with Shiv Sena. Ajit Pawar became angry and decided to split NCP and take his camp of legislators to support Fadnavis government.

The claim to form the government was submitted to the Governor at night, and early on November 23 morning, Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were sworn in as CM and Deputy CM respectively. Hours before that, the Centre revoked President’s Rule in Maharashtra. Shiv Sena rushed to the Supreme Court. Despite November 24 being Sunday, the apex court heard the petition and gave its order on November 26. In the meantime, Sharad Pawar did not take any action against his nephew.

On November 25, Pawar met Uddhav Thackeray, Congress leader Ashok Chavan and other leaders at Taj Hotel and announced the launch of Maha Vikas Aghadi. Since Supreme Court had given 30 hours’ time to Chief Minister Fadnavis to prove his majority (by November 26), there was no way out. Fadnavis resigned. On November 28, Uddhav Thackeray was sworn in as chief minister as head of a coalition government of Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress.

It was Fadnavis who said three days ago that Sharad Pawar knew everything about efforts to form a BJP-NCP government with Ajit Pawar as Deputy CM. Naturally, a seasoned politician like Pawar will never accept this fact in public because it could damage his party’s image. On Wednesday, Pawar took a completely different track. He charged the BJP of “trying to finish off its political rivals”. Pawar mentioned the Shiv Sena recognition and symbol order of Election Commission, now lying before the Supreme Court.

Pawar said: “Difference are common in politics, but it has never happened in India that a party’s name and symbol was snatched away by misusing power. When I broke away from Congress, I was the Congress(S) president and Indira Gandhi was the president of Congress(I). That time, I had the right to use the name of Congress. In today’s scenario, the party’s name and its symbol have been given to others. Such a thing never happened in the history of India…..”

“Whenever there is excessive misuse of power and attempts are made to suppress a party, the public stands by that party…I recently travelled to many districts and found that though leaders have left the Shiv Sena, staunch Shiv Sainiks are still with Uddhav Thackeray and it will be proved in the elections.”

Asked about the Election Commission order, Pawar said: “Who took the decision? Was it the Commission, or someone who is guiding the Commission? Such decisions were never made in the past. The role of a big power behind this cannot be ruled out.” Pawar appealed to all opposition parties to join hands to “save democracy and fight the BJP.”

It is pertinent to note that Sharad Pawar said this while campaigning for a Congress candidate in the byelection. His message is clear: he has no connections now with BJP. He is conveying that he is now with Sonia Gandhi and Uddhav Thackeray. Pawar is alleging that Narendra Modi will not allow other parties to survive, hence the need for opposition unity. Pawar also said, parties in power are misusing all institutions including the Election Commission.

These remarks could sound as sweet music for the ears of Congress and other opposition leaders. It is also a fact that Sharad Pawar is the most experienced and clever political leader today. He always takes four steps ahead of others. Other opposition leaders depend on his intelligence and strategy. But the problem is that Pawar Saheb cannot be fully trusted, and the opposition leaders realize this very well.

These leaders know in their heart of hearts that Pawar Saheb cannot be trusted. Nobody can predict when he will align with or ditch anybody. Pawar Saheb may claim that he is now with Uddhav Thackeray, but those in Eknath Shinde camp say, if Uddhav loses both the party organisation and symbol, even Pawar could ditch him. Pawar’s stand will become clear after the Supreme Court takes a final decision on the Shiv Sena symbol issue.

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