Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s praise of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for its functioning in the Rajya Sabha on Monday has set tongues wagging in Maharashtra’s political circles. Modi’s praise comes even as NCP chief Sharad Pawar after his meeting with Congress’s interim president Sonia Gandhi denied any discussion over forming the next government in the state with the Shiv Sena or chalking out a common minimum programme.
Pawar’s refusal to even acknowledge that Congress and the NCP are thinking of joining forces with the Sena further prolongs the political uncertainty in Maharashtra. His denial comes after giving a statement last week that they would form the next government in Maharashtra and it would complete five years.
The state Assembly polls results were announced on October 24, while the President’s rule was imposed last week.
Pawar’s cryptic replies to mediapersons after his meeting with Gandhi indicate that the Maratha strongman is trying to keep his cards close to his chest to bargain more with the Sena or possibly ward off pressure from the BJP. Modi’s praise of Pawar along with the latter’s denial of coalition with Sena yet again fuelled speculation of a possible tie-up between the NCP and BJP. After the 2014 polls, the NCP offered support to the BJP- government, while the Sena was still dithering on backing it.
Can Pawar go back to support BJP government after a bitterly contested poll against the latter and coming so far to build a coalition against it?
A section in the BJP is of the opinion that he can. A senior BJP leader and former minister said the party’s Delhi top brass will manage to get NCP’s support to form their government in Maharashtra. “There is too much at stake to let go of Maharashtra government even after winning 105 seats. Pawar and Shah-Modi may have targeted each other during the polls, but they share a relationship that goes a long way. Bygones can be forgotten to stitch an alliance and provide a stable government at amiable terms. They (Modi-Shah) would prefer to deal with Pawar than a temperamental Sena any day,” said the BJP former minister.
He added that PM’s praise of NCP was a clear indication that bridges were not yet burnt between the two. There is also speculation about possible pressure from the BJP on the NCP in light of ED case against Praful Patel and to a lesser degree against his nephew Ajit Pawar.
Another senior BJP functionary said Pawar’s statements indicated a possible stalemate due to Congress high command’s disagreement over certain aspects and such a scenario would lead the former to give outside support to BJP. “If this continues for two months or more, Pawar can give BJP outside support in the name of farmers. They may not join the government, but it can be done on mutually agreeable terms,” he said. However, when Pawar was asked about a possible rapprochement and tie-up with the BJP, he questioned how it was possible after fighting elections against the party. “In a majority of places, the NCP fought elections against the BJP. How can we join them now,” he asked.
One of the turning points in this election was the Enforcement Directorate case against Pawar in the Maharashtra State Co-operative Bank scam. It garnered sympathy for the NCP chief, who became the face of the Opposition. The NCP also contested the polls pitching Pawar, a Maratha leader, against the Delhi leadership of Modi-Shah.
Political analysts also don’t agree with the BJP assessment that the NCP will support its government. “If Pawar supports the BJP at this stage, after fighting against the party tooth-and-nail, the NCP will be finished. He will also lose his credibility. It’s more likely that Pawar is trying to get the Sena to accept or let go of some of their demands. I think Pawar and Sonia Gandhi are on the same page,” said Hemant Desai, political analyst and journalist.