In the self-inflicted wound that BJP has suffered in Maharashtra, the knife has cut deepest into Devendra Fadnavis. The former Maharashtra chief minister whose second stint at helm lasted just three days, has emerged as the biggest loser.
It needn’t have been the case. Fadnavis, who made a name for himself as an able administrator and an incorruptible politician, had everything to gain and nothing to lose except political power (that too, temporarily) if only he had waited for the right moment. As it turned out, only the second chief minister in Maharashtra to complete a full five-year term since Vasantrao Naik in 1963, Fadnavis lost everything including his credibility. It is going to be a long road from here.
Fadnavis appeared as a tragic hero on Tuesday afternoon on TV screens, trying to reclaim the lost moral ground as he made all the right noises and promised to be the voice of people while sitting in the Opposition. In life, timing is everything. That proclamation was 72 hours too late. On Tuesday, he looked injured, defeated and a little childish.
The stealth-by-night operation that saw him taking oath as the chief minister for the second consecutive time, backed by a rival politician whom he had promised to imprison during the election campaign, would have appeared “smart” only if it could have been pulled off. Had BJP’s audacious political manoeuvring been successful, even then Fadnavis and the party’s reputation would have been irrevocably damaged for tying the knot with scam-ridden Ajit Pawar.
In the chain of events that unfolded, it became clear that the BJP had either been a little too clever or too naïve, and both stances are fraught with danger in politics. It is difficult to imagine who was playing whom, but the unalloyed trust that BJP had placed on an allegedly corrupted and time-serving rival politician and had bought into his claim of enjoying the confidence of all 54 NCP MLAs reeks of immaturity, haste and naivete.
Both as a party and as a collective, the BJP’s image has taken a beating. The manner of this reverse — that saw BJP end with egg all over its face — may both rejuvenate the Opposition and damage the party’s morale. The prime minister’s tweet congratulating Fadnavis and Pawar, chief minister and deputy chief minister in charge of Maharashtra, now looks premature. The fact that Narendra Modi had to invoke his special power in facilitating the way for Fadnavis to take oath early on Saturday morning sits at odds with his image as a prudent politician who swears by the Constitution and plays by the book. Amit Shah’s image as a master strategist, too, has been damaged.
It is difficult to believe that the BJP didn’t think through the repercussions once it decided to make a cheeky bid for power. As this writer had argued previously, the BJP may have overplayed its hand in trusting Ajit’s agency and influence. Or it possibly underestimated the clout that NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar still holds his family and party.
A political party may only be successful if it manages to seize the opportunities. It is possible that when a key politician — some say the most powerful general in NCP — from the rival camp came calling and claimed that he has the backing of 54 MLAs, the BJP didn’t want to miss the opportunity of forming a government.
While waiting in the wings and watching the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress engage in never-ending tripartite negotiations, the BJP may have been suffering from anxiety and indignation at the way Shiv Sena, its pre-poll alliance partner, broke a 30-year-old relationship, disregarded the mandate, flouted all ideological constraints and crossed over to join the hands of rivals for the sake of Sena chief’s ambitions.
The BJP, which has claimed a number of times amid the stalemate and subsequent President’s Rule that the mandate received in Assembly polls was for the “mahayuti”, or the grand alliance may even have felt betrayed and bitter at being ditched by Uddhav Thackeray. It is also possible that BJP was loath to relinquish control over India’s richest state after emerging as the single-largest party that had even improved its strike rate this year compared to 2014 when it contested all seats.
While these are legitimate grounds for the lunge for power, the party need only have looked at the botched Karnataka experiment when BS Yeddiyurappa’s bid for power fell short and he had to resign as Karnataka chief minister just two days into his tenure just before the trust vote was about to take place.
Though Yeddiyurappa eventually became the chief minister, again, in 2019, that bungled experiment ought to have taught the BJP valuable lessons in realpolitik. Moreover, unlike the scam-tainted Yeddiyurappa, Fadnavis enjoys a clean image and he emerged after the 2019 Assembly polls as the rightful leader who has been wronged by his alliance partner.
Once the Shiv Sena had walked out of the alliance and joined hands with the ideological and political rivals and the BJP had turned down the Governor’s invite of forming a government, all that Fadnavis and the party needed to do was to wait and watch from the wings and let the Maha Vikas Aghadi collapse under its own weight. There are so many inherent contradictions within the curious coalition of Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress that mid-term polls would have been inevitable.
The Sena would have been thoroughly discredited. It would have antagonised its core vote bank, the Congress and NCP would have faced questions from their minority vote bank for tying the knot with Sena and it is possible that the BJP would have emerged as the biggest winner without having to depend on allies.
The Saturday morning misadventure ensured that BJP has not only put paid to all those possibilities, it may have also fatally damaged the career of one of its most promising politicians whom many thought was earmarked for bigger achievements.
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Updated Date: Nov 27, 2019 21:17:21 IST