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PAWAR’S POWER DIPLOMACY SETS THE TUNE FOR COALITION IN THE STATE ASSEMBLY POLLS

sharad-powar-2Sharad Pawar has again done it. The Maharashtra strongman known for his guile and political acumen has successfully outwitted his detractors in the Congress. It seems clear now that the forthcoming Assembly polls will be contested jointly by the ruling coalition. The demand from some people in the Congress that the party should go it alone has been derailed. Known for his ability to carry people with him, Sharad Pawar has inducted into the Maharashtra Cricket Board, former Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh who had been advocating the “Congress should go it alone” line. Many eyebrows had been raised when the Prime Minister inducted Vilasrao Deshmukh into his Cabinet even though he was not a member of either House. A few months earlier, the Maratha leader known for his close proximity to Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s political advisor, Ahmed Patel, had been sacked in the wake of 26/11. Vilasrao Deshmukh’s removal had brought in Ashok Chavan, the young Maratha and former Chief Minister Shankar Rao Chavan’s son to the political centre-stage. Ashok Chavan was handpicked by Rahul Gandhi for the job and is expected to lead the Congress charge in the coming polls. Of the other Congress leaders Vilasrao Deshmukh has continued to take the line that the Congress should go it alone and that the time had come to cut Sharad Pawar down to size. On the other hand Sharad Pawar kept on advocating that the alliance should stay. While uncertainty prevailed over the continuation of the coalition in the state, Sharad Pawar came out with another masterstroke. At the inauguration of the Worli-Bandra sea link, he suggested that the historic bridge should be named after Rajiv Gandhi. The Bandra Worli Sea Link is the first major infrastructure addition to Bombay in a long time and any Maharashtra leader would have tended to be parochial. But Sharad Pawar knew that his suggestion – made in presence of the UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi – was like a six off the last ball in a decider. Sharad Pawar’s detractors in the state suggested naming the bridge after Veer Savarkar. But then the game had already been won and so was Sonia Gandhi’s appreciation that she did not hide on the occasion. Now the only dispute between the Congress and NCP could be over the sharing of seats. The NCP may initially demand 50 per cent of the 288 seats but can be made to settle for around 125 seats. The Shiv Sena and the BJP are beset by factionalism that is already threatening this combination. The saffron alliance is not expected to pose any major challenge. It is clear that the NCP-Congress alliance in the state has stabilised for the moment. Till the results, Pawar will play with a straight bat. However, he may do the pinch-hitting once the combination returns with a good number of seats for both the parties. Wonder how Vilasrao Deshmukh and other Congress leaders will retract from their original line since the tie-up is already sealed. Or is Vilasrao Deshmukh looking for another term as the Chief Minister with Pawar’s help? Come November and we’ll all find out. Zeba Warsia – NMTV News

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