In a historically rich land of sugar barons, Maratha warriors and Peshwa rulers, politics has been always oligarchic and full of intrigue, the kind of stuff that easily inspires filmmakers like Sanjay Leela Bhansali to make a Bajirao Mastani. But Bollywood's famous creators may well fail in spinning the kind of political drama that the nation woke up to on Saturday, when the BJP stunned everyone after a week of elegant manipulation by its Shiv Sena-led rivals by staging a night of the long knives.
Devendra Fadnavis is back in the saddle as the new Chief Minister of Maharashtra, aided by Ajit Pawar and his batch of MLAs from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
The usual cocktail of suspense and skulduggery always makes for interesting storytelling. But it is time to look beyond and recognise an overarching fact of Indian politics today: ideology is flexible, corruption is secular across political groups and power quickly trumps moral principle. It is not for nothing that they have a word for it: realpolitik.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is increasingly resembling the Indian National Congress of the 1980s, using the Governor's office and the shifting sands of caste and group rivalries to help itself install as friendly a government as it is possible in state capitals. We have seen it in Bihar, Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa already. Maharashtra is playing out. Tamil Nadu is a work in progress. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh may not be far away.
Only the naive will believe that Ajit Pawar's evident split from his uncle Sharad Pawar's NCP is based on any higher principle or ideology. Politics in Maharashtra always had shades of grey: One man's Maratha steeped in a Hindutva narrative may be another man's regular middle-class Marathi. Both NCP and Shiv Sena have excelled in this grey zone, and it depends on the context what they say about speak of rural farmers, the pride of the warrior clan or everyday issues such as drinking water or education.
We should have guessed therefore that Ajit Pawar may do to his uncle Sharad what Raj Thackeray did to his uncle Balasaheb when he left the Shiv Sena to form the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. We shall await yet on the details of the Ajit Act as it is yet unfolding on an India still sipping its weekend morning chai. But it is clear that blood is thicker than water in Indian politics but ambition goes where red-coloured corpuscles won't!
In the process, the nation may be acutely suffering from a lack of iron-willed haemoglobin in governance. Er, we have a slowdown in the economy. The country's second-most advanced industrial state with an agrarian crisis could do with better administration. It is doubtful of the politics of spoils practised by a Thackeray, a Pawar or a Fadnavis will have the bandwidth to handle it all. When you have to look over your shoulders, your vision takes a backseat.
You might do well to look at it like a detective's puzzle or a funny situational comedy. Shiv Sena is more urban than rural. NCP is more rural than urban. One is ostensibly a Hindutva party upset with a hard-nosed power play in which it was forced to play second fiddle (or should one say tutari after the famous Maratha war bugle?) to the elder of the Hindutva parties, the BJP. Congress was ready to shed its secular skin and play footsie with the younger Hindutva party to checkmate the elder, but was stood up at its collaborative coalition role in a marriage of convenience by a younger Pawar upstaging an elder one -- probably because the latter's daughter Supriya Sule seemed to have higher prospects in the NCP. This breaks the game for would-be groom Uddhav Thackeray's first shot at a real chair in state power as Ajit comes thundering in with a line that would do Bollywood proud: "Yeh shaadi nahi ho sakti." (This wedding cannot happen).
Are you any wiser, dear citizen? Can bureaucrats or officials be trusted to implement meaningful policies in such an atmosphere? Can those reading the tea leaves of ideological nuance in fine cliches (pro-farmer, anti-farmer, secular, communal, clean, corrupt) have any meaningful attempt at administrative literacy? One doubts it. What's up there is political asset-stripping, to borrow a memorable phrase from the corporate lexicon. It is a spoils system in which zone-for-zone, constituency-for-constituency and party-for-party there will be a Kissa Kursi Ka: A Game of Thrones.
Will there be more industrial jobs in Pune? Will sugar factories get a fine deal in Nashik? Will farmers get a better package in Marathwada? Will orange growers thrive or not in Nagpur? Will education get better? Will healthcare get attention? The answer is blowing in the wind near Mantralaya, which smells of deep intrigue that overpowers the breeze from the nearby Arabian Sea.
The author is a senior journalist and a commentator. He tweets as @madversity
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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2019 11:50:15 IST