Suresh Prabhu in the BJP - a comeuppance of sorts for the Shiv Sena

Suresh Prabhu has been the man the Shiv Sena wished to wish away, but never could.

Matoshri (the Thackeray residence in Bandra in Mumbai, where the late Balasaheb lived) and Sena Bhavan (the party’s imposing, fortress-like headquarters at Dadar) weren’t places you’d be likely to run into a man like Suresh Prabhu. It was a mutual feeling, for those two iconic Shiv Sena locales didn’t have much love lost for him, either.

Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu — educated (he’s a qualified Chartered Accountant and has had a successful career practice), an achieving CEO (he headed the Saraswat Cooperative Bank quite successfully) and with an enviable political record. He was, in the Vajpayee government’s tenure from 1998 to 2004, Union Industry Minister, Minister of Environment and Forests, Minister of Fertilizers & Chemicals, Power, Heavy Industry and Public Enterprises, all of which he handled with aplomb. As the Union Minister for Power, he had imparted a new dynamism to the functioning of the Ministry and was committed to the all round development of this key sector.

Suresh Prabhu was also Chairman of Task Force for Interlinking of Rivers with a status and rank of Union Cabinet Minister. Prabhu has been heavily involved in the international sphere. He was elected a member of the World Bank parliamentary network and nominated as the Chairman of the South Asia Water Conference.

Asiaweek rated him as one of three future leaders of India. He certainly holds the promise. India Today ranked him as the second best performing minister in the Vajpayee-led NDA government. It does not require rocket science to figure out that such an individual would be highly rated and liked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is firmly focused on real talent, performance and delivery. The bonhomie is not without mutuality. As a mark of protest against the cancellation of Narendra Modi's keynote address at the Wharton India Economic Forum 2013, Suresh Prabhu had called off his visit to the University.

Most parties, or organizations, would give their right hand to have such an individual in their ranks, right?

Not quite. At least not with the Shiv Sena. Suresh Prabhu was always someone who was tolerated, but never really welcome. He was never the fiery, muscular Shiv Sainik one has been used to. You could count on him to down any opponent in a debate in the argumentative, informed way, armed with facts, knowledge of the issue and performance, but that isn’t the style the Sena boys are known for. For the rank and file, it was always “the Sena way or the highway”.

That isn’t Suresh Prabhu’s way. More to the point, Suresh Prabhu never brought in the moolah for the party. In the Shiv Sena, this is a serious enough deficiency, and one that invited quick political oblivion. It was only Suresh Prabhu’s efficiency as a delivering minister, a honest conscientious politician in the executive mould, a stature that transcended Maharashtra, and the fact that he was the only presentable face the Shiv Sena could muster at the Centre that saved him from such a fate. But the bosses at Matoshri were never happy with him. Rumblings about him wanting to dump the Sena and opt for the BJP were always in the air. On one occasion, (the late) Balasaheb Thackeray is reported to have asked him point blank: 'Are you ours or theirs (meaning the BJP’s)?'

Suresh Prabhu has been formally inducted into Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet on Sunday. He is likely to be India’s next Railway Minister, replacing Karnataka strongman Sadananda Gowda, who is expected to be demoted to a junior portfolio. His becoming a Union Minister for yet another time isn’t as big a ripple as is the fact that his joining Modi’s Cabinet has triggered another standoff between the BJP and Shiv Sena. Just hours before his oath at Rashtrapati Bhavan, Suresh Prabhu has finally called time on the party he had been in for long and joined the BJP.

Suresh Prabhu's entry into the BJP is already leading to further escalation of tension between the two former allies. Sena MP Anil Desai was supposed to take oath as a Union Minister, but has been handed only a Minister of State portfolio. Uddhav Thackeray has ordered him to report back to Mumbai as soon as he landed in Delhi. The BJP's offer is not acceptable to Uddhav, who wanted a Cabinet berth for his party in the Sunday reshuffle. And the BJP chose to give that Cabinet slot to… well, Suresh Prabhu… of all people, who bid goodbye to the Sena to embrace its estranged once-upon-a-time ally. There are already speculations that Uddhav Thackeray will pull his party out of the NDA government at the Centre and even play an opposition in Maharashtra. If sources are to be believed, Anant Geet, the only Shiv Sena minister in the Union Cabinet, may quit shortly.

The bad vibes are already there, with the Shiv Sena calling the BJP ‘arrogant’.

For the Shiv Sena, this is a comeuppance of sorts. Their most prominent national representative has joined a truly national party. For the party that began its political journey on an anti-non-Marathi manoos platform (the target of the Shiv Sena’s parochial ire were Bombay’s South Indians first, after which the Thackeray's boys next targets were the Gujaratis, and then residents from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar), the one man who lent it some ballast in the national capital is now lost to the BJP. The composition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet - before and after reshuffle - shows that all segments of the country’s region are firmly with him, whether from the north, south, east or west of India. The pan-Indian appeal is undeniably Modi's.

The Sena - BJP spat over recent happenings, though, should not blind us to the reality that this is no clash of ideologies, but rather one stemming from petty issues of ministerial berths and bruised egos. And therein lies the danger. Both parties behave as though they’re already in the 'post-ideology' world. The nation's adversaries-be it the Communists, Macaulian secularists, Islamic fundamentalists, Christian missionaries or the NGO industry are very much ideologically-driven. That is something for the BJP to constantly bear in mind, the unwelcome fracas with the Shiv Sena notwithstanding.

Courtesy India Tomorrow

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