Late in December, BJP party president Amit Shah who had led the party to victory in Maharashtra called on Sharad Pawar at a Mumbai hospital. Pawar, the chief of the Nationalist Congress Party or NCP, had injured himself at his Delhi residence and was flown to Mumbai for treatment; he is still recuperating in the financial capital.
Many lauded Shah's gesture whose party, during the campaign for the state election, had scathingly referred to the NCP as a "Naturally Corrupt Party."
The meeting had another motive. NCP heavyweight Ganesh Naik who left the Shiv Sena and joined Pawar in the 90s enjoys tremendous political influence in the Thane, Navi Mumbai belt, especially among mathadi kamgaar workers (unorganized labour) who form an important and chunky votebank. Naik who had served as Guardian Minister for Thane had remained one of Pawar's most reliable men despite his alleged involvement in illegal quarrying.
The Maharashtra results which saw a huge surge in the popularity of the BJP had Naik concerned about his own prospects, and he reportedly communicated to Pawar that he was keen on joining the BJP, not least because his men were on the verge of rebellion.
Naik also skipped a very important meeting of NCP leaders in Mumbai in December . His absence would have meant further losses for the NCP in municipal elections due in 2017 in the state.
Those elections are crucial for the BJP to cut the Sena down to size. Though they are co-governing Maharashtra, the alliance is an onerous one, and the Sena repeatedly attacks the BJP in public.
Amit Shah has reportedly promised Pawar that the BJP will not add Ganesh Naik as a member for as long as the NCP helps combat the Sena in the municipal elections and helps important legislation move through the Maharashtra state assembly.
For the BJP, the Sena and the Akalis in Punjab are turning into problematic allies. So it makes sense to have Pawar firmly by its side. It's a quid pro quo for the two in the state with rumors emanating from the NCP that the party could join the Prime Minister's central government, should the need arise.
Irrespective of the numbers , Sharad Pawar, easily one of the most shrewd and astute old men in Indian politics, is a politician Modi would want to keep by his side, not just as an able negotiator during crises ( he was called the UPA's trouble shooter), but also as a counterpoint to the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.
The control of the sugar industry of Maharashtra and the powerful cooperatives are evenly divided between the Congress, the Sena and the NCP. Pawar can help the BJP keep the other parties' hold in check.
For Pawar , the Modi-Shah support is necessary to keep in check any rebellion against his daughter Supriya Sule from his party members including nephew Ajit Pawar and former Aviation Minister Praful Patel who in the past has permitted the floating of rumors of him leaving the party . With RR Patil's untimely death and Pawar's health woes, the NCP bastion needs some buttressing.
Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena has been having back-channel talks with state leaders from the Congress like Narayan Rane; it has also allegedly reached out to NCP leader Ganesh Naik to return to the fold and strengthen the party.
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