Sharad Pawar is Maharashtra’s President’s Rule Veteran

Politics

Sharad Pawar is Maharashtra’s President’s Rule Veteran

Illustration: Siddhakanksha Mishra

Maharashtra’s 2019 state assembly elections were a curiosity: Its winning candidates never got to properly celebrate their victory. Currently, the state has no chief minister or council of ministers, despite the results being declared three weeks ago, on October 24. After Maharashtra Governor BS Khoshyari invited the BJP, Shiv Sena, and NCP in succession to demonstrate their “willingness and ability” to form a government, all three parties failed to meet the deadline, and so he recommended that President’s Rule be imposed in the state. It’s only the third time in Maharashtra’s history that President’s Rule has been imposed, but for one of the major players in the power struggle currently unfolding, it could be third time lucky. That player is NCP founder and tenured veteran of Maharashtrian politics, Sharad Pawar.

Pawar’s party currently holds the enviable position of being both kingmaker and potential king, heading into this six-month period of President’s Rule. With 54 seats, NCP can plausibly weave together an alliance with Shiv Sena on the 50:50 power-sharing principle Sena claims BJP reneged on after polls. That is, if NCP’s own allies in Congress offer support as well. And with President’s Rule in effect for six months, there seems to be enough time for political alliances to be cobbled together. Should NCP participate in the government’s formation to any degree, Pawar will be able to say that he has experienced President’s Rule from almost every angle: As an incumbent CM who lost his post, as a coalition partner who brought about the fall of government, and now as the leader of the party considered a dark horse in the race to form the government. It’s a gripping story arc worthy of its own movie trilogy, but Bollywood would rather make endless Golmaal sequels instead.

In case no party is able to form a government during the allotted period, a decision will be taken on whether to have a re-election or extend President’s Rule. But from Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, to NCP’s Ajit Pawar, and BJP’s Sudhir Mungantiwar, leaders from all the parties in contention are claiming that they will be able to stake a successful claim, with all the outsize confidence of a TikTok influencer. President’s Rule is meant to be imposed when there is a “failure of constitutional machinery” as stated in Article 356 of the Constitution, but you wouldn’t grasp the urgency from the optimistic outlook of these politicians.

But if there is any one leader who can afford to have a “been there, done that” attitude to the current scenario, he’s Sharad Pawar.

But if there is any one leader who can afford to have a “been there, done that” attitude to the current scenario, he’s Sharad Pawar. He’s had a ringside seat to every previous instance of President’s Rule being imposed in Maharashtra; in fact, he was even in the ring itself for the first. In 1980, Pawar was the state’s CM heading a coalition government of the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) when Indira Gandhi’s Congress faction won power in the Lok Sabha elections at the Centre. Pawar had come to power as CM by breaking away from Gandhi’s loyalists in the state and forming a coalition with her rivals, Janata Party. So in February that year, the PDF government was dismissed following Gandhi’s Lok Sabha elections victory, and Congress returned to power.

The second time President’s Rule was imposed in the state came 34 years later, and Pawar was a much more experienced campaigner by then. In the intervening years, he had returned to Congress, and broken away from it once again to form NCP with fellow Congress exiles. By 2014, he was back with Congress, as an ally in UPA’s coalition government. This time, President’s Rule was imposed after Congress CM Prithviraj Chavan resigned his post when NCP MLAs withdrew their support following a disagreement between the two parties on a rotational CM’s post, much like the one which is causing BJP and Shiv Sena so many problems today.

This is the first time Maharashtra, in its 59-year history, has seen President’s Rule imposed because no party was able to successfully stake a claim to forming a government. Once again, like the two times before, Sharad Pawar is at the centre of the action. And for the experienced campaigner looking for his next big victory, the third time could be the charm.

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