The macabre drama under way in Maharashtra has finally given way to the possibility that an unstable coalition government might be formed in the state — one that overrides all ideological, political and moral barriers and is based purely on the principle of power and politics of convenience. The Shiv Sena has announced that it will sever all ties formally with the BJP and look for support from the NCP and Congress in forming a government.
As the second largest party (albeit not by much), Sena has been offered a chance by the governor to prove its numbers on the floor once the BJP had expressed its unwillingness to form the government. It might succeed in its mission and form a government, and even get to install party chief Uddhav Thackeray as Maharashtra chief minister. The crucial question is, what next?
Before we come to the question, it is worth noting the position taken by the BJP. As the single largest party — in terms of vote share and number of seats — the BJP received the first invitation from the Governor. Yet it turned down the invitation and expressed its inability to form the government. It means that despite winning the highest number of seats by itself and bagging comfortable majority in alliance with its pre-poll partner Shiv Sena (105 + 56 = 161) in the 288-member Assembly, the BJP will not return to power in Maharashtra.
Worth noting that this was the first time BJP had won back-to-back mandate in Maharashtra (considering the fact that it went into the 2019 Assembly polls in alliance with Sena and with a 164- 124 seat-sharing arrangement) and had a better strike rate than even the first term when the party contested all seats on its own and bagged 122 out of 260. Among all the parties in fray, it was in best position to form the government and its claim to power was the most legitimate. And yet, as things now stand, the BJP has decided to sit in the Opposition and let Shiv Sena and others prove their numbers.
In other words, the BJP has thought it better to let the saffron alliance crumble and deny Devendra Fadnavis a second stint as the chief minister than give in to the blackmailing from Sena. For a number of reasons, the BJP has taken the correct decision.
One, the BJP, in one stroke, has taken away Sena's biggest weapon — blackmailing the BJP to stay in contention for power. The numbers of the latest Assembly elections were stacked in a way that would have made BJP - if it formed a government - dependent on Sena for stability. BJP's oldest partner would have doubtless exploited the situation to hold the BJP government at ransom on any issue under the sun. Now that BJP is out of the equation, the Sena's bluff has been called.
Two, the BJP has now forced Sena's hands in a way that it must shed its infantile behavior and show maturity. The Sena must now come to terms with the fact that it has both power and responsibility and show sensibility, administrative acumen and as the senior partner, manage the compulsions of an unlikely coalition. This is uncharted territory for Sena that until now had been pushing hard for a bargain secure in the knowledge that the BJP, in the interests of remaining in power, will accede to its demands.
Three, a BJP-Sena government would have been unbelievably acrimonious. The reason for this acrimony lies in Sena's existential fear of the BJP's rise. BJP's oldest alliance partner and ideological fellow traveler had long been insecure at BJP's growing clout in the state which, it reckoned, had come at its own cost. This insecurity eventually led it to a realisation that unless it becomes more assertive in the alliance and pulls its weight, soon the Sena may be reduced to a cipher.
Four, linked to the insecurity mentioned above, the Sena therefore had adopted an apparently contradictory position in its alliance with the BJP. While it formally remained a partner and a part of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, the Sena started behaving as an Opposition party. Its vituperative rhetoric against the BJP and some steps that made it appear inseparable from any Opposition party were aimed at differentiating the Sena brand from the BJP - given that both shared the same ideological base and voter base - and keeping its cadres fighting fit. The Sena was desperate, despite being the junior partner of the BJP, not to take BJP's dominance lying down. This created a situation where the Sena had best of the both worlds. While it enjoyed the fruits of power by virtue of being in alliance with its coalition partner, it also tried to corner the Opposition space. BJP's move to sit out and let Thackeray form the government has upset Sena's cushy plan.
Five, the BJP has now pushed Sena into a corner where it must seek support from NCP and the Congress to stake its claim. This, fear some senior Sena leaders, may alienate the party from its core ideological voter base and eventually strengthen BJP's hands even more. The committed saffron voter may now perceive the Sena to be a betrayer to the Hindu cause and see BJP as the only true representative, thereby harming Sena's prospects in the long run. This is why some Sena functionaries such as Subhash Desai, Anil Desai, Eknath Shinde and Milind Narvekar wanted the Sena to stick to BJP.
Six, BJP's move to stay out of power instead of remaining a part of an acrimonious alliance boosts Fadnavis's image as a leader who is ready to sacrifice power for the sake of ideology. The BJP claims that it remains committed to the pre-poll alliance and at no stage had it given a commitment to the Sena on a rotational chief minister. Its move to relinquish power may be seen as a sacrifice that places the BJP at a higher moral pedestal and boosts Fadnavis's image. If the state witnesses a mid-term election, the BJP may be able to cash in on this moral capital. BJP's move contrasts with that of the Congress and NCP which, after running a spiteful election campaign against the Sena-BJP alliance, now finds it opportune to back the Sena to get a slice of power. This not only corrodes the "secular" positioning of the Congress and NCP, but also exposes them as power-hungry opportunists. This situation can't be compared to the formation of government in erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir by the BJP in alliance with the PDP under a common minimum program" because in this case the BJP went into the elections with an alliance partner firmly in place.
Seven, the Sena has got 56 seats out 124 that it had contested. Its vote share is not only lower than the BJP, but also comparatively less than what it got in 2014 when it contested all seats on its own. Under no circumstances does it have a legitimate stake to claim on its own. By severing its ties with its oldest partner and joining hands with rivals - all because it wanted to corner the chief minister's post — the Sena has irrevocably damaged its reputation. This may cost the party in long run.
Finally, we come to the question of what may happen if the Sena forms a government with support from the NCP and Congress. Sharad Pawar's part has already placed a few conditions before the Sena. Accordingly, Sena minister Arvind Sawant has resigned from the Modi government. This gives Pawar, the old fox, another shot at power. The Sena government will essentially be beholden to it and the wily Pawar may exploit the opportunity to expand NCP's footprint. The Congress, which still hasn't been able to make up its mind, may offer outside support, though a few party MLAs are reportedly keen to be a part of the government. This makes for a volatile cocktail that may bring instability to Maharashtra politics. A mid-term election can't be ruled out.
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Updated Date: Nov 11, 2019 19:53:18 IST