ED arrest, silent NCP: Decoding the political math of Chhagan Bhujbal

Senior NCP leader and former Maharashtra deputy CM Chhagan Bhujbal produced at sessions court in Mumbai. Photo: Kamlesh Pednekar

Women of a certain age who might have read Femina!


Read more from our special coverage on "CHHAGAN BHUJBAL"

Anyway, for those who want to understand the complexities of Maharashtra politics and what is really happening among allies, adversaries and enemies, here is a set of ‘helpful hints’ in navigating the maze and understanding the politics behind Chhagan Bhujbal’s arrest

  • Chhagan Bhujbal of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) who was arrested yesterday was taken in custody by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that answers to the Ministry of Finance in Delhi. He was NOT arrested by the local vigilance or anticorruption agencies. This means the orders came from among the highest in the land. It is equally significant that he was asked to come for questioning at 8 a.m. and arrested, almost 12 hours later, at 8 p.m. This should have been enough time for NCP honchos in Delhi to have a word with functionaries in Delhi and give guarantees about Bhujbal’s conduct, were ED not to put him behind bars. Either the NCP tried and failed – or did not try. 
  • The Maharashtra Assembly is on. There was desultory discussion going on and finally the Speaker just adjourned the House for the day on Tuesday. But no one has seen Ajit Pawar or Sunil Tatkare since 2 p.m. on Monday. BJP MP Kirit Somaiya had said last week that Bhujbal would be arrested. He has also said that Ajit Pawar and Tatkare will be arrested in the next 8-10 days. He is on the inside track.  
  • By now, any other party would have been organising protest processions against this kind of arrest, even if pro forma. In this case, not only are there no protests, but the NCP chief Sharad Pawar has made no public statement. On March 14, the day Bhujbal, a party colleague was arrested, NCP MP Praful Patel, who was speaking on the Railway Budget in the Rajya Sabha, had this to say about the NDA Railway Budget: ‘At the end of the day, everybody wants to see that the Indian Railways be in a good financial position. Now, we have the pressures of the Seventh Pay Commission. We have other compulsions too of finding the money. We have to see how that money is not only going to be found but also to see how it is going to pay for itself. At the end of the day, Sureshji, I was complimenting you that if at all somebody can turn around the Indian Railways, it is you. I said that while you were not listening. Now that you have come half-way, I am repeating it for you….’ While he was saying this, the noose was slowly tightening around Bhujbal. 
  • Although one of its senior members has been arrested, the NCP’s promise of unconditional support to the minority BJP government led by Devendra Fadnavis, via a letter that is with the Governor, has not been withdrawn. 
  • This means that the BJP government with 122 MLAs in the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly still has the support of the NCP and could conceivably still consider dumping the 63-member Shiv Sena with whom they are in alliance in the centre as well as in the state. To form a government the BJP needs 145. Remember, the Sena kept the BJP hanging for nearly three months after the Maharashtra Assembly elections before they committed their support. 
  • What will it take for the NCP and the BJP to do a deal? Ajit Pawar is being sought under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), which is by no stretch some local issue.
  • The NCP rank and file is demoralised, Bhujbal’s family and supporters more so. Could this cause him so much disenchantment at the conduct of his party bosses that he might be ready to spill the beans on some of them?
  • If the NCP does not act fast to keep its flock together, could this be the beginning of the end – as people realise that working for the party does not mean insurance for life against prosecution? If the rank and file feels the party does not stand up for you, what hope is there of keeping the NCP united?
  • At a broader level, what does this entire episode – and the one involving Virbhadra Singh, P Chidambaram’s family and Robert Vadra – tell you about the Enforcement Directorate, how it works and whom it is used to target? Is the ED going to be for Narendra Modi what the Jain diaries were to P V Narasimha Rao?

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel