Pawar play: On the churn in politics in Maharashtra

Maharashtra might see a fresh churn as the elections approach 

May 11, 2023 12:20 am | Updated 12:51 am IST

Politics in Maharashtra is in an intense churn. Key actors are trying to figure out their most advantageous positioning ahead of the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections that are scheduled for next year, and in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision, on Thursday, on disqualifying Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and 15 other legislators who left with him to claim the mantle of the Shiv Sena by rebelling against Uddhav Thackeray, the son of Sena founder Bal Thackeray, in June 2022. Intra- and inter-party dynamics are at play. Sharad Pawar’s dramatic announcement that he was quitting the post of president of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had the intended effect of defusing a brewing rebellion led by his nephew Ajit Pawar, who thinks it is time to carve out his own path and come out of his uncle’s shadow. The patriarch is back in the saddle and the nephew has reiterated his loyalty to the party, but the story is far from over. Mr. Pawar, 82, wants to bequeath his political legacy to his daughter, Supriya Sule, but he is also plotting the national terrain for his own potential role in the run-up to 2024. The Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, who is championing the unity of parties that are opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) across States, will be in Mumbai later this week to meet with Mr. Pawar and Mr. Thackeray. Mr. Kumar met the Odisha Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, on Tuesday.

The BJP, having benefited from the split in the Shiv Sena, is now plotting its next move to dominate State politics on its own. The Shinde faction’s ability to sustain itself without an alliance with the BJP is doubtful, but Mr. Thackeray too has a battle at hand to keep his flock together. He wants to hold on to his Hindutva lineage and retain the upper hand in the State. The Sena finished behind the BJP in the 2019 Assembly election, inverting the hierarchy between the long-term allies. This divergence of interests between the two Hindutva parties led to their split and the formation of the tri-party Maha Vikas Aghadi, between Mr. Thackeray, and the Congress and the NCP, two professedly secular parties. The Congress projects itself as the secular national alternative to the BJP but has to engage in a balancing act that might necessitate sacrificing some of its share of seats to keep the alliance with the Sena intact. Also, the Congress has its own internal battles of egos and divergent viewpoints among its leaders.

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