Ajit Pawar's Revolt in Maharashtra: How Modi Is Merely Imitating Indira Gandhi

The BJP has almost completed transforming itself into a carbon copy of the old Congress party led by Indira Gandhi.

4 min read
Hindi Female

This piece is not for the naïve who still feel that morality has a significant role to play in politics and realpolitik. They are better off listening, on a loop, to Imagine by John Lennon. Across the world, politics is about winning power. In many ways, politics is like love and war: all is fair.

This piece is also not for the blind Bhakts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who continue to harbour both illusions and delusions that he will never sup with the allegedly corrupt. What is happening in Maharashtra is politics and realpolitik in all its Machiavellian glory (or disgrace, if you are not very fond of PM Modi).


A Carbon Copy of the old Congress Party

More ground reporters and better-informed commentators have already written reams about the Sunday shocker. The author will not dwell much on the events except for a brief recap. The nephew of Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar along with long-standing trusted lieutenants Praful Patel, Chagan Bhujbal, Dilip Kolse Patil, and a host of others ditched (or do they have his surreptitious blessings?) the senior Pawar and founder of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and embraced the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ajit Pawar has been sworn in as the deputy chief minister of the Eknath Shinde-led government in Maharashtra and there is buzz that Praful Patel will join the Union Cabinet.

With this move, the BJP has almost completed the journey of transforming itself into a carbon copy of the old Congress Party led by Indira Gandhi. A ruthless and uncompromising pursuit of power while offering pro-poor rhetoric as defined by Indira Gandhi. It also now defines Narendra Modi.

If any good was done for Indians along the way (The author does believe that both have done well in many ways), it was and is a bonus. Let me recall one event from 1978, one from 1980, and two from 1984 to remind Congress supporters who are wailing about the subversion of "democratic values and principles” that it is the Grand Old Party that pioneered this strategy. The BJP is merely emulating it because it can; and get away with it.

Sharad Pawar: The OG Machiavelli

Back in 1978, Sharad Pawar was an ambitious 38-year-old Congress politician who considered veteran Vasantdada Patil to be his mentor. In the anti-Emergency wave of Lok Sabha elections of 1977, when Indira Gandhi was humbled by the Indian electorate, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra remained loyal to the Congress. Vasantdada Patil was chief minister of a Congress government in 1978. Almost 45 years to the day on 18 July 1978, Sharad Pawar walked out with 40 Congress MLAs, joined forces with the Janata Party and other opposition parties, and became chief minister.

In 1977, Haryana voted like the rest of North India and threw out Indira Gandhi. Bhajan Lal quit the Congress, joined the Janata Party, and became a minister in the Devi Lal-led government in Haryana. A few years down the road, he ousted Devi Lal in a palace coup to become the chief minister. The tables turned in 1980 when Indira Gandhi swept back to power. In February 1980, accompanied by 35 Janata Party MLAs, Bhajan Lal marched to Indira Gandhi’s residence and swore loyalty to her. Back then, remnants of the Janata Party (the BJP was to be formed later in the year) and Communist parties bleated plaintively about morality in politics while Congress leaders smiled and winked.


Saffron Lipstick

After the death of Sheikh Abdullah, his son Farooq Abdullah became the anointed leader of the National Conference (NC) in Jammu & Kashmir. His party defeated the Congress in the 1983 assembly elections and Farooq became the chief minister. Indira and Rajiv (who was by then the anointed inheritor) Gandhi didn’t like it one bit. They used Farooq’s brother-in-law G M Shah to trigger a "split” in the NC and Governor Jagmohan dutifully removed Farooq as the chief minister. The BJP and the Communist parties howled in protest. Democracy was dead, they said. "Long live Democracy", retorted amused Congress leaders.

Perhaps, the last Machiavellian move of Indira before Indira Gandhi's assassination came in August 1984.

In 1982, Rajiv Gandhi publicly humiliated the Congress chief minister of Andhra Pradesh T Anjaiah at the Hyderabad airport. Superstar N T Rama Rao formed the Telugu Desam in 1983 to protest against the insult to Telugu pride and swept the 1983 Assembly Elections.

NTR returned from a triple bypass surgery in the US towards the end of 14 or early 15 August. On the very next day, TDP minister N Bhaskar Rao executed a plot that was being planned for months. He ditched NTR along with some rebel MLAs. Governor Ram Lal promptly dismissed NTR and installed Bhaskar Rao as the chief minister. The BJP and other opposition parties screamed murder of democracy. Indira and Rajiv Gandhi were unruffled.

By persuading Ajit Pawar and Praful Patel to “betray” his uncle and mentor Sharad Pawar, the strategists of PM Modi are merely repeating history and doing what the strategists of Indira Gandhi once did when the Congress had clots, numbers, and resources. It is high time Congress leaders and supporters claimed down their high horse of morality and accept reality.

The author is convinced that Congress will do the same if it magically revives and once again becomes the dominant political force in India. It is also high time BJP leaders and supporters stop parroting the nonsense that it is a “party with a difference”. Soon after Arun Jaitley presented his first Budget in 2014, columnist Swaminathan S Aiyer wrote in The Times of India: “It is not a radical Modi Budget but a Chidambaram budget with saffron lipstick”. In many ways, the contemporary BJP is the old Congress with saffron lipstick.

(Sutanu Guru is the Executive Director of the CVoter Foundation. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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