Mumbai: The notice of no-confidence motion moved by the Shiv Sena last week in a hush-hush manner had a crucial role to play in the cabinet re-entry of Ajit Pawar yesterday, as the coalition government in the state could not afford to not have the NCP strongman on board at such a critical juncture.
As the motion would have to be debated and put to vote in the Winter Session of the legislature starting from December 10, the notice helped Pawar make a speedy comeback since the Democratic Front government led by Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress needs the NCP leader and the large number of MLAs from his party loyal to him.
A point to be noted is that there was unusual silence on the part of the Shiv Sena about having moved the notice. An impending no-confidence motion, considered the strongest tool the Opposition can use against the government in a parliamentary democracy, is under normal circumstances widely publicised and is enough to create a hubbub in political circles.
But nothing of the kind was seen till MiD DAY broke the news on December 4 on the Shiv Sena notice and how it was an odd move considering the excellent personal relations between its leaders and CM Chavan.
But politics is a complex game, and now, after the swearing-in of Pawar, it is amply proved that the odd move by the Shiv Sena was the turning point for the leader, working in his favour as it secured him an early return to the state cabinet.
The notice was formally submitted to the state legislature secretariat, which currently has its camp office in Nagpur for the Winter Session. The Opposition did not make it public; under normal circumstances such a notice becomes a topic of media briefings.
And the Shiv Sena sprung a surprise even on its coalition partner BJP with the notice - despite the BJP being a principal opposition party, its leaders had been in the dark about the development.
What was cooking?
When senior leaders of the BJP sought to know the reason behind the notice, they received only cryptic replies. The BJP strategy to corner the government had to go in for an immediate review as such motions are taken up on a priority basis in the legislature and there was very little time left.
For a government, even if it enjoys a comfortable majority, a notice of no-confidence motion is enough to send alarm bells ringing as there is the fear of the Opposition using the debate to raise a bogey that can make the government look in a bad light.
Also, even a few ruling MLAs registering their absence can cast a doubt over the stability and efficiency of the government.
In such circumstances, the onus of saving the government any embarrassment was on Chief Minister Chavan as the leader of the house, and it became rather tricky for him in the absence of a deputy chief minister, who, being the leader of the NCP, would have been equally responsible for facing the attack by the Opposition.
Before yesterday, Pawar was not a part of the government and, in such a scenario, ensuring the support of all NCP MLAs for the test of strength in the assembly had become an arduous task.
Matters were becoming complicated as Pawar's re-entry was getting delayed even though he was keen to return to the government. Something had to be done fast, and finally Pawar was sworn in yesterday.
Earlier, the NCP had been expecting the swearing-in to happen by December 2, which would have been a few days after the release of the White Paper on the state irrigation sector on November 30. But the demise of former prime minister I K Gujral and the weeklong mourning blocked the possibility. The CM was also not very keen on the issue as the White Paper, released through the government website, had not been formally debated in the cabinet. At the time, Congress leaders also cited the pending court cases related to the irrigation projects as a stumbling block.
Amid all this, Ajit Pawar and his uncle, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, were working overtime behind the scenes.
Also, Ajit Pawar enjoys the support of a majority of party MLAs and ministers, a fact that was evident soon after his resignation on September 25 over irrigation scam allegations; after he had put in his papers, NCP MLAs and ministers except PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal came out strongly in Pawar's support.
The legislators supporting Pawar were quite aggressive about making efforts for his inclusion in the government, and the Congress came under tremendous pressure on the issue when it was faced with the task of defeating the impending no-confidence motion. The NCP legislators had even given worrying signals for the government by indicating uncomfortable issues could be raised during the session.
So, things got moving and though barely three days were left for the Winter Session to begin, Pawar was again inducted in the cabinet, on the very next day of the completion of the mourning period for Gujral.
A senior NCP leader who is very close to the functioning of the government accepted that the Shiv Sena motion was "the crucial development" that facilitated the younger Pawar's return.
For the CM, the task of facing the no-confidence motion has now become easier as he now has a deputy, who is also the leader of the coalition partner of the Congress, to join him in defending the government.
After all this, the Democratic Front government can at least say that the Opposition can no longer accuse it of lacking internal coordination - one of the 10 points listed by the Shiv Sena as the reason for bringing a no-confidence motion is lack of co-ordination in the ruling coalition.