Political observers in Maharashtra have been keenly watching the way Siv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s body language has been changing as his tussle with the BJP intensified. Normally an affable, mild-mannered person, Uddhav has been displaying flashes of his formidable father Balasaheb Thackeray as he gambles to outmaneuver the BJP in government formation. He’s been combative and aggressive and using far stronger language than he normally does.
Political circles in Mumbai say it was quite clear a few days into the political crisis where Uddhav was getting his advice from to become the tiger he never was. There’s no one shrewder and wilier than Sharad Pawar in Indian politics and the BJP is getting a taste of what he is capable of once he makes up his mind to teach his opponents a lesson. The Modi-Shah-Fadnavis trio may have made a mistake when they aroused Pawar’s ire in the lead up to the assembly elections.
The NCP chief had virtually retired from politics, choosing not to contest the Lok Sabha polls this time in deference to his age and health. But after the trio tried to obliterate his party by enticing his prominent leaders and MLAs, Pawar became active. The last straw was the cases against him personally and his close aide Praful Patel just before the polls. Pawar came out roaring like a tiger and virtually snatched victory out of the BJP’s hands with an aggressive campaign. The BJP trio clearly didn’t bargain for the post-poll show of aggressive “Pawar” play through the Shiv Sena which has been a restive ally for several years now.
There were plenty of fault-lines in the BJP-Sena relationship. It just needed an old fox like Pawar to widen the cracks. Pawar’s close relationship with the Thackeray family is well known in Maharashtra. Remember that Balasaheb had backed Pawar’s bid to become prime minister many years ago when he was in the Congress. And when Pranab Mukherjee was aiming to be elected President of India, Pawar had taken the senior Congress leader to Matoshree to get Uddhav’s support for his candidature.
Trouble in Jharkhand
While the Congress and JMM are inching closer to a pre-poll pact for the upcoming assembly elections in Jharkhand, there seem to be trouble brewing in the BJP. Jharkhand chief minister Raghubir Das has not taken kindly to suggestions from the BJP leadership to take tribal leader and union minister Arjun Munda with him on his proposed state-wide prepoll yatra. The suggestion has come in the wake of the backlash the BJP suffered from the dominant Jat community in Haryana and the Maratha community in Maharashtra. The backlash led to an underwhelming performance in the recent polls.
The reason for the anger of these dominant communities is the BJP’s attempt at caste politics in the two states. The BJP appointed a Brahmin chief minister in a Maharashtra which has almost always had a Maratha in charge and a Punjabi in Haryana which is used to Jat CMs. Following the same pattern, the BJP chose a non-tribal for Jharkhand but is now worried about a backlash from the tribal community in the upcoming polls. Das, however, sees Munda as a potential rival for the CM post and is reluctant to have him by his side on the yatra. For the moment, he has postponed his yatra, indicating that all is not well in the BJP camp.
Narendra Modi’s decision to invite Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to be the chief guest at next year’s Republic Day parade has raised eyebrows in diplomatic circles. Bolsonaro is a controversial figure because of his far-right politics but Modi is keen to host him as part of a plan to expand ties with South America. They met recently in Riyadh where both attended the Future Investment Initiative Business Forum. And they will meet again in Brazil next week at the BRICS Summit. Interestingly, Brazilian presidents seem to be popular with Indian leaders as chief guests on Republic Day.
Bolsonaro is the third head of state from that country to attend India’s big national day parade. In 1996, Fernando Henrique Cardoso was invited by the then Congress government of Narasimha Rao and in 2004, it was Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a guest of the then BJP government of Atal Behari Vajpayee. However, both were benign figures who didn’t carry controversial baggage like Bosonaro. In fact, da Silva was a Leftist trade unionist whose politics was quite the opposite of the saffron party Vajpayee headed.