Politics in Maharashtra seems to have decided to take inspiration from the Mumbai film industry as a multi-generational feud plays out and two dynasties battle for power. Add the death of an actor, serial intemperate allegations, and the BJP focus on winning the Bihar election, due in a few months.
This potboiler is currently running in two states – Maharashtra and Bihar.
After losing power in Maharashtra within 72 hours of an ill-advised swearing-in, Devendra Fadnavis has worked 24/7 to eject Uddhav Thackeray, whom he sees as a usurper, as Chief Minister. While Thackeray runs the government in alliance with the Congress and the NCP, the BJP’s rage seems reserved for the Thackeray family and their party, the Sena.
I spoke to several central and Maharashtra leaders for this column and they have a fascinating take on the issue centred on the premise that Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya Thackeray present a real danger to the BJP in Maharashtra and its leadership. The BJP had assumed that after the death of his father, Bal Thackeray, the Sena, under the non-charismatic, quiet photographer Uddhav Thackeray, would be a pushover. This has proved a huge miscalculation. And when Thackeray decided to make his son a minister and get him some much-needed administrative experience, the BJP decided it was time for an intervention.
Aaditya Thackeray (file photo)
Recall the “Pappu” campaign that the BJP and its IT Cell ran against Rahul Gandhi complete with industrial-grade WhatsApp jokes and propaganda which I had revealed in my investigative book “I Am A Troll: Inside the BJP’s Secret Army.” Gandhi’s image never quite recovered from the onslaught. A similar smear campaign is now being run against Aaditya Thackeray with unhinged social media allegations that he has a link to the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. Paid trends against him top the social media charts and I cannot even report the WhatsApp allegations being generated by the IT Cell against the Thackeray family as it would amount to slander.
The BJP calls the campaign “Pappu 2”, a not-quite-so-unconscious reveal of its intentions.
While using the stick against the Thackeray family, the BJP is using the carrot against the other family in the equation – the Pawar clan. This has been marked by a quiet outreach to the “weak link”, Ajit Pawar, who is the nephew of party chief Sharad Pawar and teamed up with Devendra Fadnavis for their misadventure in forming the government after the election.
Ajit Pawar is a man with a mercurial temperament and a huge sense of entitlement. His son Parth Pawar was publicly rebuked by Sharad Pawar for demanding a CBI inquiry into the death of Rajput. But when the Supreme Court two days ago said the case will be handed over to the CBI, Parth Pawar took a cheeky shot at his grandfather, tweeting “Satyamev Jayate” (the truth prevails). This would have been unthinkable two years ago but the huge fissures in the Pawar family are now well-documented.
Sharad Pawar with Uddhav Thackeray (file photo)
Nudging all this along, the BJP is promising heaven and earth to Ajit Pawar and his son. Meanwhile, Sharad Pawar is keenly watching the Fadnavis play. Pawar does politics at so many levels and is so opaque that his allies currently don’t quite know which side he is on. Pawar has an open channel to PM Narendra Modi who has referred to the Maharashtra veteran as his “political guru“. Both the Congress and Sena are now nervous about what stand Sharad Pawar will adopt in the hugely-politicized “Justice for SSR” campaign.
Says a senior Sena leader “We made a mistake – we never thought the BJP would stoop so low in its politics,” a senior Sena leader said. “We should have said ‘yes’ to a CBI inquiry in the first instance (instead of opposing it). They first dragged in Aaditya and now they are using SSR as the main issue in the Bihar elections. This is a new low in the politics of the BJP”.
Low or not, the BJP and its ally in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar have decided that SSR is a potent weapon in the upcoming election. Clearly Kumar, once called “Sushasan babu” (good administrator), has come up empty after digging for achievements to sell to voters. Cue the plan to pit justice for a son of Bihar against Maharashtra, where Biharis have often been at the receiving end of the Sena’s “sons of soil” campaign against “outsiders”.
Expect new reveals of salacious details, leaks of private conversations and actors associated with the BJP to keep the SSR campaign ticking at furious pace as the Bihar election nears. Devendra Fadnavis will soon be popping up all over Patna to drive home the message, now that he is unofficially in charge of the BJP campaign in Bihar.