BE­HIND THE PAWAR GAM­BIT

India Today - - BY WORD - M. J. AK­BAR

It has been a long while since any­one has is­sued an ul­ti­ma­tum to So­nia Gandhi and sur­vived to tell the tale. On July 24 Sharad Pawar sent a pub­lic mes­sage to the Congress pres­i­dent: ‘ Find a so­lu­tion to all my prob­lems with your satraps in 24 hours or I am out of here.’ Those 24 hours silently slipped to 48, but even­tu­ally Congress pro­vided some band- aid for Pawar’s ego. That is about as good as it gets for sup­pli­cants in the court of the Congress em­pire.

For the eight years that So­nia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar have been part­ners in UPA, Mrs Gandhi has treated Pawar, who was chief min­is­ter of Ma­ha­rash­tra when Ra­jiv Gandhi was an In­dian Air­lines pi­lot, with the in­dif­fer­ence re­served for un­wel­come fel­low trav­ellers. If Mrs Gandhi had a smile to waste, it was not be­stowed on Pawar. She has nei­ther for­got­ten nor for­given Pawar’s op­po­si­tion to her nom­i­na­tion, by ac­cla­ma­tion rather than elec­tion, as pres­i­dent of Congress. Pawar also op­posed the idea of Mrs Gandhi be­com­ing prime min­is­ter in 2004. Mrs Gandhi’s link with NCP is through the more amenable Pra­ful Pa­tel. She cam­paigned for Pa­tel in both 2004 and 2009; ac­tu­ally, Pa­tel got the small­est leads in the Assem­bly seg­ment where she ad­dressed meet­ings, but, to be fair, this could as well be be­cause he took her to the most hos­tile ar­eas in his con­stituency.

Pawar, con­versely, has an ex­cel­lent equa­tion with Dr Man­mo­han Singh. Dr Singh would have given him a port­fo­lio some­what more suited to his heavy weight in pol­i­tics, if he had not been pre­vented by Mrs Gandhi. Pawar was also an early cham­pion of Pranab Mukher­jee’s el­e­va­tion to Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van, a de­vel­op­ment about which Mrs Gandhi had reser­va­tions.

This does not mean, how­ever, that there are two fac­tions in NCP. Pa­tel is not com­man­der of a proClive fac­tion in Si­raj ud Daulah’s army. He is loyal to his leader, Pawar, who de­ter­mines strat­egy on how to con­front both al­lies and foes. They play good cop/ bad cop in har­mony. So what is Pawar’s strat­egy?

There are four stages in a po­lit­i­cal rift. The first is mur­mur. This rum­ble is heard, but does not re­ally reg­is­ter for ev­ery­one knows that it will take much more than a belly ache for the vol­cano to burst. The sec­ond step is an in­sur­rec­tion that leaves space for a bar­gain. But an el­e­ment of risk has en­tered. The pri­mary pur­pose might be to in­crease dis­com­fort rather than desta­bilise, but both sides know that they can­not al­low de­mand to far out­pace sup­ply. The third is low- in­ten­sity re- bel­lion in a clus­ter con­fronta­tion: In the present con­text, it would amount to ‘ Congress pro­poses, part­ner dis­poses’. The fi­nal stage is di­vorce, but this needs ex­is­ten­tial provo­ca­tion: The mess must be toxic. A mere quar­rel can set up es­trange­ment, but is in­suf­fi­cient grounds for sep­a­ra­tion.

The prin­ci­pal Congress al­lies are in fer­ment. DMK is rum­bling. Cir­cum­stances have made it a help­less pris­oner of its own anger. How­ever hu­mil­i­at­ing this cage for a proud re­gional party, it is bet­ter than the fierce jun­gle out­side, teem­ing with big car­niv­o­rous cats.

Sharad Pawar, who kept his rum­ble very quiet, has opened his pub­lic cam­paign with an in­sur­rec­tion that is look­ing for a bar­gain. Ma­mata Banerjee has reached the third level of rage. But both Pawar and Banerjee know the di­rec­tion in which they are mov­ing. Pawar un­der­stands the dan­gers of be­ing punc­tured like a damp squib. He would not have raised the stakes with­out a long- term plan, since he is not go­ing to get what his party re­ally wants, a new CM in Mum­bai. Pawar be­lieves Prithvi­raj Cha­van may be the most hon­est CM Congress has pro­duced since 2004, but his ad­min­is­tra­tion is a fail­ure. He does not want to pay his share of the price.

That is at the heart of this dra­matic script: Gov­er­nance and ac­count­abil­ity. The com­plete sham­bles in Con­gress­ruled states is as as­ton­ish­ing as in­ex­pli­ca­ble. Three years ago, Andhra, As­sam and Haryana were mod­els of po­lit­i­cal rec­ti­tude. They have de­gen­er­ated into cesspools of so­cial vi­o­lence and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity. Com­mu­nal ten­sions and ri­ots have reap­peared in As­sam, which gave Congress a his­toric vic­tory and could now pun­ish it with his­toric de­feat. What has hap­pened when, seem­ingly, noth­ing new has hap­pened?

You crash when you lose con­trol of your ve­hi­cle and your nerve. In­tox­i­ca­tion might be one rea­son; com­pla­cence, an­other. Al­lies are try­ing to shift away from the steer­ing wheel, on which they are per­mit­ted only the oc­ca­sional fin­ger in any case, so that they might be able to swerve away from the wreck when it comes. The story is not what is hap­pen­ing in Delhi but the dan­ger­ous and gath­er­ing chaos out­side, from the Cap­i­tal’s doorstep to the fur­thest bound­aries of the na­tion. Trou­ble is not a Congress mo­nop­oly. BJP is ca­reer­ing to­wards dis­as­ter in Kar­nataka, and within months of spec­tac­u­lar suc­cess, Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav is re­viv­ing a nos­tal­gia for Mayawati in UP.

This is the mis­er­able jam that is hold­ing up In­dia.

Pawar un­der­stands the dan­gers of be­ing punc­tured like a damp squib. He would not have raised the stakes with­out a long- term plan, since he is not go­ing to get what his party re­ally wants, a new CM in Mum­bai.

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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