Maharashtra: Three’s a crowd

Subhasish Mitra (Wide Angle)

Will he, won’t he? The speculation was swirling around for months. But when Ajit Pawar finally walked out with his loyalists from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), led by his uncle Sharad Pawar, into the waiting arms of the BJP in Maharashtra on July 2, the timing caught many off guard.


The Maharashtra bombshell dropped by the newly-appointed Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar was a long time in the making, with some NCP leaders suggesting partnering with the ruling BJP in the last week of April.


The sequence of events ever since have been filled with high drama. The vertical split in Sharad Pawar's NCP led by his nephew Ajit Pawar has jolted the political landscape of the state, with possible repercussions on a national joint Opposition front as well.


Will Ajit Pawar's presence in the government constrain Chief Minister Eknath Shinde further? Will BJP's Devendra Fadnavis be moved to Delhi? Can old warhorse Sharad Pawar spring a fightback? Does the MVA gain or lose? These are certain pertinent questions that are being hotly discussed after Ajit Pawar took oath as deputy CM in Maharashtra -- his third stint since November 2019 and under a different CM each time.


His trajectory since the 2019 assembly election encapsulates the state of Maharashtra’s coalition politics. Unlike 2019, not only did Pawar take the oath, eight other NCP MLAs were also sworn-in as ministers. Like chief minister Eknath Shinde had staked claim to being the ‘real’ Shiv Sena after his rebellion against party boss Uddhav Thackeray last year, Ajit Pawar too is claiming that he represents the official NCP.


It is claimed that Ajit has the support of 35 NCP MLAs and two of the five Lok Sabha MPs, though the picture will be clear in the days to come. It appears that this time the political rift in NCP is unlikely to be papered over quickly – in 2019 Pawar resigned after three days. In all, 35 NCP MLAs of the party’s 54 who were elected are believed to have switched. But the numbers the Eknath Shinde government right now claims to have does not necessarily guarantee stability.


The ruling coalition in Maharashtra may now be dealing with a problem of plenty as it includes three parties -- the BJP, Shinde’s Shiv Sena, and Ajit Pawar and his men from the NCP.


Political instability in Maharashtra now comes from two sources. First, there’s the legal challenge to Shinde and other Shiv Sena MLAs who revolted in 2022. SC’s judgement last month laid down important principles for assembly speakers to follow when the legislature party splits. SC accorded the political party primacy over its legislative wing. Therefore, a party’s constitution and the writ of its president have priority over what the legislators decide, even if they represent a majority of the party’s assembly strength.


Instability in Maharashtra is not confined to just legal complications. The current coalition government will face a challenge in managing expectations of an ideologically fluid coalition.


Earlier, Maharashtra witnessed an unusual set of advertisements that brought out the uneasy equation between Shinde and his deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis. Now, there’s another deputy CM and a new set of ministers to deal with. Accommodating multiple interests will be a challenge for Shinde.


Highlighting a potential twist in the political environment of Maharashtra, Shiv Sena (UBT) mouthpiece 'Saamana' said Ajit Pawar joined hands with BJP to replace chief minister Eknath Shinde, who last year broke Shiv Sena to switch sides. An editorial in the Marathi daily claimed the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah has not only "muddied" politics of Maharashtra but also of the country.


Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Aaditya Thackeray too took to Twitter to hit out against the Shinde government, saying the "failed double engine government" now has a "third wheel." Maharashtra politics has undergone a churn, it's time now to see how the political scenario unfolds. 


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