Mumbai, December 11: Aging patriarch of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) - Sharad Pawar - apparently still holds the key to power in Maharashtra, as exhibited by him even in his fifth decade in politics. The 79-year-old achieved the unthinkable by ousting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from power despite the party fighting polls in the backdrop of a clean sweep in Lok Sabha polls and the highly revered move of Article 370 repeal from Jammu & Kashmir. Sharad Pawar Reveals What Made Shiv Sena Accept 'Secularism', Clears NCP's Stand on Citizenship Amendment Bill.
The most intriguing aspect of Pawar's electoral battle in Maharashtra last month was his realpolitik with Shiv Sena. The latter, a 30-year-old "Hindutva ally" of the BJP, ended up breaking the saffron ranks and stitching an unprecedented alliance with the Opposition.
Named as the Maha Vikas Aghadi, the coalition on one end features the "secular" Congress and the "right-wing" Shiv Sena on the other, with the Pawar-led NCP acting as the bridge.
Even as Pawar worked with a concerted post-poll strategy, there was no hush shown by the NCP camp towards government formation in Maharashtra. After the election results, he reiterated that the mandate for the Congress and NCP is to work as an effective Opposition and the Sena and the BJP should resolve their differences to form the government.
Giving Sena The Coveted CM Post
A reluctant Pawar allowed the Sena, particularly the latter's prime mover - Sanjay Raut - take the first step towards forming a rainbow coalition. After the Sena approached Pawar to discuss the formation of a non-BJP government, the NCP president was quick to assure Sena of the chief ministerial post.
With the CM post being the point of contention between BJP and Sena -- which ultimately led to the break-up of their alliance -- Pawar ended up giving an offer to the Uddhav Thackeray-led party which they can't refuse. With the CM post being handed over to Sena, the party sighted an end to its 20-year-old hiatus from the helm of power.
Quelling Nephew's Rebellion
When the Maha Vikas Aghadi was all set to be formed, Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar caught most of the political pundits by surprise with his midnight overture to the BJP. A covert deal was struck between him and the BJP in the intervening night of November 22 and 23. In the wee hours, the President's Rule was revoked and by the time Maharashtra woke up, Fadnavis was sworn-in as the Chief Minister and the junior Pawar his deputy.
While the senior Pawar was initially believed to have endorsed Ajit's alliance with the BJP, it became clear within a few hours that the 60-year-old has indeed launched a rebellion against his uncle and NCP patriarch. By afternoon, however, the rebellion was quelled as the five out of 54 party MLAs - who had sided with Ajit Pawar - returned to the senior Pawar and claimed that they were "misled". Within four days, even Ajit Pawar resigned and returned, and BJP's Devendra Fadnavis was left with no other option but to pave way for the Sena-Congress-NCP combine to form the government.