There are few Indian politicians as inscrutable as Sharad Pawar. The old political jungle saying in Mumbai is what 'Pawar thinks, what he says and what he does, are three entirely different things.' Which might explain why no one is still quite sure what was Mr Pawar's exact role in the high drama in Maharashtra in the last month. Was the Nationalist Congress party (NCP) leader really not aware of the negotiations that his nephew Ajit Pawar was having with the BJP? Or was he simply playing both sides of Maharashtra's high stakes poker politics to find out who would give him the best deal?

There is a story which BJP leader, the late Pramod Mahajan would happily relate about his alliance talks with Shiv Sena chieftain Bal Thackeray. In 1990, when the two sides agreed to cement a state-wide alliance in the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha Elections for the first time, Thackeray just scribbled a number on a piece of paper and passed it onto Mahajan. “We fight 200 seats, you fight the rest,” Thackeray bluntly told the BJP leader. The deal was done in less than half an hour: the Sena would eventually fight 183 seats and the BJP 105 in the 288 member assembly.

So here is the paradox of our times. Read the business pages, and there is a fair chance that you will get the impression of a Narendra Modi government on the ropes and an economy in serious trouble. Then, read the political pages and find that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) juggernaut is marching from one electoral success to another.

In the mid-1990s, as VP Singh was scrambling to help form a non-BJP, non-Cong ‘Third Front’ government, we asked the former prime minister if such a ‘khichdi’ government was good for the country. “I don’t know about being desirable, but it is inevitable,” was his sharp response. Singh was seen as the original mascot of third front politics: in 1989, he became prime minister by forging a coalition with, quite miraculously, the outside support of the BJP and the left. The single point agenda then was to remove the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government.

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