The following is an excerpt from Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar’s memoir, ‘Lok Maze Sangati’, Rajhans Prakashan. The excerpt is from the chapter titled ‘Mahavikas Aghadi Chi Julani’ (The becoming of the Maha Vikas Aghadi).
It was translated from the original Marathi by Zeeshan Kaskar.
I have learned that the seeds of success are often hidden in struggles.This lesson was reinforced during the period between 2014 and 2019, when my colleagues and I faced numerous challenges. Between 2014 and 2019, we were struggling every day. Our performance in two consecutive Lok Sabha elections and the 2014 assembly elections was disappointing, and the results of the Local Self-Government elections were not encouraging either.
There was no shortage of leaders who were leaving the party by dissolving their pride. These leaders were more concerned with their own power and wealth than with the democratic process. The ruling party had opted for a stance which reflected its belief in, ‘Taming the opposition to such an extent that they wouldn’t even ask for a medicine (virodhak aushadhala pan distaa kama naye).’ This anti-democratic stance was taken by the ruling alliance, which made it difficult to mount a moderate struggle. Instead, we had to keep a close eye on the weak links of the ruling alliance and work tirelessly to make progress.
After the 2014 assembly elections, Shiv Sena compromised and joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The relationship between BJP and Shiv Sena underwent a radical change, and although there was a coalition government in the state, the undisputed supremacy was BJP’s. The tone between these two parties was discordant, and the language of Shiv Sena ministers indicated that they were carrying resignations in their pockets already. From the body language and statements of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, it seemed that they did not have much sympathy for Shiv Sena, either. Shiv Sena, on the other hand, had been pressing their same old demands.
In the earlier days, whenever there was a need for dialogue between BJP and Shiv Sena, the top leadership of the BJP would go to Matoshri and then a discussion would happen with Balasaheb. Uddhav had the same expectation from the BJP, but the BJP leadership felt that this sort of an adjustment won’t be possible with the changing times.
BJP fought the election of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) with full strength against Shiv Sena, wanting to eliminate the Sena from Mumbai. The same picture was seen in other municipal corporations like Thane, Kalyan-Dombvili, Mira-Bhyander, Vasai-Virara and Navi Mumbai.
The BJP’s political calculation was that they cannot establish undisputed supremacy in the state unless Shiv Sena is eliminated from urban areas, where it is strong. As both Shiv Sena and BJP were in alliance, the party workers could not express their anguish openly, but the fire kept on burning inside. In a meeting in Pandharpur, Uddhav Thackeray said, “We have rotted in the alliance for 25 years (Aamhi panchvis varsha yutit sadlo).” The BJP’s straightforward political calculation angered the Shiv Sena leadership and workers, who felt the party had one-upped them. Despite all this, we did not think that political opportunities were open for us.
Amit Shah decided to visit Matoshri, and the divided alliance once again entered the election fray together. After his visit, he consulted only Uddhav Thackeray, keeping Devendra Fadnavis out for some time. Many in the political circle wondered what exactly was discussed during that meeting.
Oath taking at dawn
Maintaining the momentum of forming a united government posed a new challenge. Arvind Sawant, the only minister of the Shiv Sena in the Union Cabinet, had resigned, and the party had joined the opposition benches in parliament. This move solidified Shiv Sena’s anti-BJP stance, creating a situation which was needed to instil confidence in the Congress and expedite its efforts.
However, the Shiv Sena and the NCP did not receive the expected response during meetings with the Congress. There was consensus on the Common Minimum Program (CMP), but the finer details were yet to be finalised. In the cabinet, Congress and NCP were to receive a larger share and the Congress was also given the post of Speaker of the legislative assembly. It was unanimously announced that Uddhav Thackeray would be the chief minister.
Thus all the conditions were met for the Maha Vikas Aghadi to come to power in the state.
Political events were unfolding at a rapid pace, and just when the path for government formation seemed to have been paved, Maharashtra’s politics took an unprecedented turn.
On November 23, at 6.30 am, I received a call at my residence informing me that some MLAs of the Nationalist [Congress] Party had reached the Raj Bhavan, and Ajit Pawar had submitted a letter to the BJP expressing the party’s support and that Ajit Pawar would take oath as Devendra Fadnavis’ deputy. It was a big shock for me as this happened when the NCP took the initiative to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi government.
After getting some information, I learned that only 10 MLAs had gone with Ajit, and they were misguided into believing that it was happening with my approval. Whatever was happening was not only shocking, but it was also happening by misleading some leaders. It was a dirty trick by the central government, the Raj Bhavan, and the BJP in the state to destroy the Maha Vikas Aghadi.
It was important to sort out this mess before there was a major political upheaval.
I called Uddhav Thackeray to inform him of the early morning drama at the Raj Bhavan, assuring him that the step taken by Ajit had no support from the NCP, and all the MLAs taken to Raj Bhavan would return. To clear his doubts, I told him how some MLAs had been taken by Ajit by misleading them. I invited Uddhav Thackeray to join a press conference which I was doing at the Y.B. Chavan Centre to clarify the position of the Nationalist Congress Party and comment on overall developments.
As I reflected on Ajit’s decision, I couldn’t help but wonder why he had chosen to act in such a manner. Despite my initial thoughts, I knew that this was a significant event that required swift action in the face of the political upheaval it had caused.
So, I made the decision to take the first step and crush the rebellion. I immediately requested that measures be taken to bring back all the MLAs who had left after speaking with our office bearers and colleagues. As 50 out of 54 NCP MLAs were present at the Y.B. Chavan Centre for the press conference, the rebellion was visibly crushed. In order to provide accurate information to the people of Maharashtra, we decided to hold that press conference.
With Uddhav Thackeray and Congress leaders also present at this afternoon press conference, the Maha Vikas Aghadi became an impregnable force.
Sharad Pawar is a four-time chief minister of Maharashtra and a former Union minister. He is the chief of the Nationalist Congress Party.