Maharashtra is in turmoil. After witnessing twists and turns in the last ten months, it is all set for another political drama. The state may even witness a change of guard if the verdict of the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on defections in the Shiv Sena expected anytime, upsets the ruling dispensation.

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, who was never his own boss, is now in a precarious situation as Ajit Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was being talked about as his successor. Theories abound ahead of the Court verdict and after that, it will become clear as to who is fooling whom and for what purpose. Contradictions abound.

Although Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have been openly predicting desertions from the NCP and the Congress legislature party in the coming days, following the revolt by the Shiv Sena legislators and MPs against Uddhav Thackeray, this is not dithering the Opposition camp for the simple reason that it has brought the BJP-Shiv Sena rivals even closer and is seen as a credible alternative to the ruling front.

On the other hand, it could be the end of the road for Chief Minister Eknath Shinde as also his faction of the Shiv Sena. His loyalists who are losing their political relevance would either join the BJP or a section could come back to the Uddhav Thackeray led Shiv Sena.

Speculation was rife that the Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly Ajit Pawar would switch to the ruling camp with his supporters. Added to that was Ajit Pawar's silence on the speculation of quitting the NCP, reports that he removed NCP picture on his Twitter handle, and that his loyalist Dhananjay Munde met BJP’s powerful leader and financial manager Mangal Prabhat Lodha and talk of Operation Kamal suggest new combination in the BJP led front.

But, on Tuesday, Ajit Pawar said he was not joining hands with the BJP and that he remains with the Sharad Pawar-led NCP. He told reporters that the rumours of him joining the BJP, did not have an "iota of truth". According to news reports Ajit Pawar said such "News items are being planted” to create “confusion about me and my people.” The Telegraph reported that Ajit Pawar also said, “No signatures of MLAs were taken. We are all loyalists of the NCP. No such talks or decision occurred (on BJP alliance). Now, all rumours should be put to rest."

Meanwhile, according to sources, CM Eknath Shinde’s loyalists are also talking of leaving the ruling front if Ajit Pawar becomes CM, while talk of Dy. CM Fadnavis being shifted to the Centre as a minister, indicates that a new political experiment is being launched under compulsion in the state.

Pawar’s twitter bio which has his photo reads: “Leader of the Opposition, Maharashtra Legislative Assembly | Member of Legislative Assembly, Baramati | Ex-Deputy CM, Maharashtra | NCP Leader.” He recently called the deaths caused due to heatstroke of those attending the 'Maharashtra Bhushan' award distribution ceremony at Kharghar a “man-made disaster”.

Pawar held the government “fully responsible for this unfortunate incident” and added that a “case of culpable homicide should be registered against the government for this incident”. He wrote to the CM, Dy. CM and demanded a compensation of “Rs. 20 lakh each to the relatives of the deceased”.

The NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s recent statements on Gautam Adani, JPC and the Opposition unity, have confused both the Opposition and the ruling BJP as well. Sharad Pawar had reportedly said that “Ambani and Adanis names are taken to criticise the government. But there is a need to think about their contribution to the country as well.”

Although Sharad Pawar has good relations with the national leadership of the BJP he never allowed the BJP to make inroads in his political support base in the state. In fact, his ground level politics has remained so far anti-BJP at a time when the politics of Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, Deve Gowda, Chandrababu Naidu, late Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav, helped the BJP for its expansion in Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka and partly in Telangana.The BJP’’s tactics of using regional parties, players have also benefited it in Assam, and Haryana.

Sharad Pawar is uncomfortable with the Congress, the party under Sonia Gandhi had tried to check him when he was the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha during 1998-99. But Pawar’s NCP remained with the Congress and shared power with it in Maharashtra for over 15 years (1999 to 2014) and at the Centre (2004 to 2014).

However, he has recently met with Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge at his residence in New Delhi, and himself tweeted that “General secretary of AICC Shri K. C. Venugopal and Congress leader Shri Rahul Gandhi were also present.”

Sharad Pawar’s critics and supporters know well that Sharad Pawar is playing politics but are unable to guess which way it is working. This is because despite being a friend of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Pawar has prevented the BJP from coming to power for nearly two-and-half years after the verdict of the 2019 Maharashtra Assembly polls.

The BJP-Shiv Sena combine got the absolute majority in the state assembly and the real politics began after the victory. The BJP’s `Chankya’ had never imagined the formation of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA).

Now, the Maharashtra unit of BJP is finding it difficult to correctly read the political situation in the state. This is because Uddhav Thackeray, it thought would collapse following the split in the Shiv Sena. However, he got stronger. The ‘Chankyas’ are now playing political gamble on Ajit Pawar with a calculation that this would weaken the NCP and Sharad Pawar.

But Ajit Pawar’s exit, if he still does so, could make way for Supriya Sule, Jayant Patil as the NCP’s chief ministerial faces. Besides, the BJP can never make Ajit as the supreme leader in the state,the position he is currently enjoying in the state NCP. But ,yes, he could get relief from the investigating agencies.

Ajit Pawar has found himself in a sticky situation. The BJP might be enticing him, but he cannot afford to weaken the NCP, as he has limitations as a leader in the state. The Congress can check the BJP in the Vidarbha region.

When the reports of Ajit Pawar possibly switching to BJP had gained momentum his supporters, his cousin Supriya Sule also reportedly hinted at "two big political explosions" in the next 15 days.

According to a report in NDTV, Sule said that there will be "One (explosion) in Delhi and one in Maharashtra.” She was reportedly responding to Prakash Ambedkar's comment on "big political explosions in 15 days" stated the news report.

Sharad Pawar had already brushed off the political speculation surrounding his nephew Ajit Pawar. The veteran leader said that Ajit Pawar “is working for the party. All this is in your head."

On the other hand, the BJP and its national leadership have now realised that it cannot win Maharashtra in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) networks. And this is said to be the reason behind the delay in holding the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and other Municipal Corporation polls.

Besides, shifting some key industrial projects and central government offices to Gujarat from Maharashtra will certainly work against the state BJP, which is on the defensive about it.

These developments suggest that the coming electoral battle for the Lok Sabha, the state assembly or the local body, cannot be a one-sided affair. The big rallies of Maha Vikas Aghadi held in Aurangabad, Nagpur have cautioned the BJP and its allies.

The BJP could be successful in splitting the opposition parties by using the Directorate of Enforcement (known as ED), Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). But this will not have any bearing on the direct election. That is why Uddhav Thackeray has been daring the BJP to dissolve the Assembly and seek a fresh mandate.

In Mumbai, the former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, had met the Congress leadership and told the media that even though his party had “maintained a relationship with the BJP for 25-30 years, but they [BJP] did not understand who was a friend and who was an opponent. We will together fight for democracy in the country.”

The BJP’s insistence on keeping the NDA alive in Maharashtra is a candid admission that it cannot come to power in the name of Narendra Modi. Interestingly, the NDA experiment has never been extended to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,Karnataka, Assam, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Haryana by the BJP.