The decision of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to join the NDPP-BJP coalition in Nagaland has led to some murmurs within the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA).
Party sources said the NCP took the decision to join the coalition in Nagaland as the majority of the seven newly elected NCP MLAs wanted to be a part of the Neiphiu Rio-led government. Rio has become the chief minister of the northeastern state for the fifth term.
NCP northeast in charge Narendra Verma conveyed the sentiments of the Nagaland legislature party to NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Had the party decided to sit in the Opposition in Nagaland, it feared a split. The possibility of all NCP MLAs joining the BJP was also there, said NCP sources.
Following the old adage – if you cannot beat them join them – Sharad Pawar decided to allow his party’s MLAs to join the coalition as he knew it would be futile to convince the latter to play the role of the Opposition.
Pawar’s six-decade-long political career is dotted with such manoeuvres.
A senior Congress leader in Maharashtra requesting anonymity expressed his disappointment with the NCP. He said, “Politics is about perception. If the NCP has to compromise its ideological position in smaller states like Nagaland, how can we fight the BJP-Shiv Sena (Shinde faction) in Maharashtra?”
The unrest among the Congress and Shiv Sena (UBT) members following the NCP’s decision is evident. But top leadership of the Congress and the Shiv Sena (UBT) have urged their members not to speak against Sharad Pawar publicly at this moment.
Shard Pawar’s alliance with the BJP in Nagaland, though, is not the first such instance. In 2014, the NCP pledged support to the BJP in Maharashtra. The BJP, which emerged as the single-largest party with 122 seats out of 288 seats in the state legislative assembly, was falling short of the majority by 23 seats. The BJP was then in the process of looking for a potential ally. Since the BJP and the then-undivided Shiv Sena had contested elections separately, there was bitterness among the saffron parties. Sharad Pawar came forward to pledge his unconditional support to the BJP. He had then justified his move on the grounds of providing political stability in Maharashtra. But, critics said, behind this generous gesture was the larger plan to divide the Shiv Sena and the BJP. The tactics, though, did not work out as the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena joined the BJP to form the government a month later.
In 2019, Pawar held a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi to purportedly discuss the possibility of a BJP-NCP alliance. This time, the BJP was banking on the NCP’s support to retain power in Maharashtra.
The BJP-NCP alliance with Devendra Fadnavis as the chief minister and Ajit Pawar as the deputy chief minister was sworn in but it was a short-lived experiment that lasted less than a week.
Senior Pawar played a proactive role to get the NCP, the Congress, and the then-undivided Shiv Sena to form a three-party coalition government in the state. The MVA government ruled for 2.5 years.
Political observers believe that Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar’s swearing-in was not possible without Senior Pawar’s consent. On his part, the former Union minister has avoided revealing the facts. Instead, he dismissed it in a lighter vein arguing, “It helped to lift the President’s rule and then facilitate swearing in of Uddhav Thackeray as CM of MVA.”
The present deputy chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, has gone public during a series of TV interviews to claim that the BJP-NCP alliance had the blessings of Sharad Pawar.
Maharashtra NCP chief Jayant Patil said, “Nobody can question Sharad Pawar’s secularism.” A national leader of Sharad Pawar’s stature is bound to have cordial relations across party lines, is the explanation given by NCP leaders. It does not amount to compromising on ideology, they say.
Long back in 2001, late prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee chose Sharad Pawar for tackling the Gujarat earthquake crisis. The NDA made Sharad Pawar the vice-chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority. Sharad Pawar was chosen as he had ably handled the Latur earthquake as the then chief minister of Maharashtra in 1993.
When asked about the NCP’s support to the BJP coalition in Nagaland, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi chief Prakash Ambedkar said: “Sharad Pawar has taken an unconventional route in politics. He is a shrewd politician who knows what’s best for him and his party. He never compromised political interest.”
However, All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi slammed Sharad Pawar. “I’ve never supported the BJP government and never will but this is the second time the NCP supported the BJP and it may not be the last,” he said.
A senior BJP functionary pointed out, “Sharad Pawar is unpredictable. Nobody knows what he will do next. In 1999, he split the Congress to form the NCP. But soon after the elections, he formed an alliance government with the Congress. In 2014, he supported the BJP. In 2019, he formed the MVA to corner the BJP.”
The NCP-BJP alliance in Nagaland has given the right wing in Maharashtra the opportunity to call Sharad Pawar out for his ‘double standards’, as Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule said, “On one hand you (Sharad Pawar) talk of secular alliance MVA. On the other hand, you join the NDPP-BJP alliance in Nagaland for power.”
The NCP, though, continues to describe Sharad Pawar’s political moves as pragmatic.