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Eknath Shinde’s helplessness, Ajit Pawar’s desperation

Eknath Shinde’s helplessness, Ajit Pawar’s desperation

Eknath Shinde’s lack of decision-making power reminded one of what BJP veteran L K Advani said about former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over a decade back — the Prime Minister is in office but not in power.

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Last Updated : 11 April 2024, 05:46 IST
Last Updated : 11 April 2024, 05:46 IST
Last Updated : 11 April 2024, 05:46 IST
Last Updated : 11 April 2024, 05:46 IST
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Politics is a great leveller. Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, leading what has been described as the ‘real’ Shiv Sena, has lost the game even before the Lok Sabha elections, thanks to his dominant ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP’s central leadership has clipped Shinde’s wings much before he could dream big.

One would assume that being the Chief Minister, Shinde would have his way, but the renomination of his son from the Kalyan-Dombivali constituency did not come easily. After much suspense, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on April 6 announced that the BJP conceded the seat to the Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena.

Shinde’s helplessness and lack of decision-making power was evident, and reminded one of what BJP veteran L K Advani said about then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over a decade back — the Prime Minister is in office but not in power.

As chief minister, Shinde appears to be put in such a position by the BJP’s central leadership. He has been made the executive head of the premier state to do its bidding. Nothing more, nothing less.

Shinde had not bargained for this when he revolted against Uddhav Thackeray more than two years back and brought down the Congress-National Congress Party-Shiv Sena Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA). 

The BJP was alerted to Shinde’s ambitions almost a year back when he came out with a survey projecting his popularity as the highest in Maharashtra. It was also a time when Shinde had sought to emerge as the leader of the dominant Marathas. His growing visits to Satara were to show that he was a Maratha from the hinterland. The BJP put up a brave face declaring that all was well, and that the CM would complete his term.

The BJP-Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde) equation suddenly shifted upon Ajit Pawar — after splitting the NCP with his uncle Sharad Pawar — overnight became the second deputy chief minister. This was intended to put Shinde in place. Ajit Pawar’s induction was the biggest setback for Shinde and his MPs and MLAs given that they had been sharply against Ajit Pawar’s work as finance minister in the Thackeray regime. 

Now the BJP has cut the tickets of three sitting MPs belong to Shinde’s faction of the Shiv Sena, from Ramtek, Yavatmal-Washim, and Hingoli. The BJP is in a tussle with its Sena ally to have its nominees from Thane, Nashik, Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg, North West Mumbai, and Palghar. The BJP wants senior NCP minister Chaggan Bhjujbal to contest from Nashik. For Shinde, Thane is a prestigious seat as it is his home district. Shinde is finding it tough to negotiate with the BJP which only understands the position of strength, or the lack of it.

It is payback time for Shinde and he is not delivering. Everything appears to have been done by the BJP to make Shinde’s Sena faction the ‘real’ Shiv Sena, but it is looking more like a rag-tag force. On the contrary, Thackeray’s Shiv Sena’s propaganda of ‘pachas khokhe, ekdam ok’ implying that the BJP has bought each legislator for Rs 50 crore has resonated well with sections of the public.

The BJP’s problem is two-fold. It believes that though most of the MPs of the erstwhile Shiv Sena might have switched sides with Shinde, many of them do not have elective merit at a time when the MVA is gaining momentum.

Its greater worry is that there is growing sympathy for Thackeray with many people feeling that the BJP wronged Thackeray, who is seen as the first among prominent Marathi leaders. Sudhir Mungantiwar, a prominent Maharashtra Minister and BJP candidate from Chandrapur, cautioned voters at a recent public meeting in his constituency that matters could become difficult if they voted based on prevailing sentiments. He did not take Thackeray’s name but the reference was obvious.

The political grapevine is that Shinde’s problems have increased ever since he rejected a proposal by the BJP that all candidates fight the polls on the BJP’s poll symbol. Fighting a poll under its symbol would bind the candidate to the BJP for the whole term. For a regional party, such a suggestion would be as good as merging with the BJP and become deadwood.

For now, the BJP is treating Ajit Pawar with kid gloves, but his troubles could start if he fails to deliver Baramati, which is Sharad Pawar’s bastion. Supriya Sule, Sharad Pawar’s daughter, is the sitting MP from Baramati, and Ajit Pawar has fielded his wife Sunetra Pawar against Sule. Sunetra Pawar is a political greenhorn, but Baramati will see fierce competition between family members.

Sunil Gatade and Venkatesh Kesari are senior journalists.


Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the authors' own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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