Race for Maharashtra: How BJP's Operation Lotus, termed masterful 72 hours ago, went off track, bringing state back to square one

  • The midnight coup planned and executed in Maharashtra on Saturday by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been stymied for the moment.

  • For some time, the ruling party may have had visions of having safely pouched one of the most important states in the country, but those visions have been dispelled by the Supreme Court.

  • The chances of the BJP breaking any of the three parties that constituted the alliance were thin, given the numbers

The midnight coup planned and executed in Maharashtra on Saturday by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been stymied for the moment. For some time, the ruling party may have had visions of having safely pouched one of the most important states in the country, but those visions have been dispelled by the Supreme Court.

The highest court in the land made it clear in its order on Tuesday that members of the Legislative Assembly would have to be sworn in by a pro-tem Speaker and a floor test conducted by him by 5 p.m. on Wednesday. This order then induced the (now ousted) chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, sworn in almost in secrecy on Saturday morning, to hit the panic button. He resigned as chief minister not long after the court had passed its order, admitting that he did not have the numbers to form a government.

The Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP’s) Ajit Pawar, then already elected the leader of his legislature party, who had for all practical purposes ditched his party and its commitment to an alliance with the Congress and the Shiv Sena, had been sworn in as deputy chief minister alongside Fadnavis, via Saturday morning’s egregious and secretive gubernatorial action. He, too, probably found little point in clinging on and resigned. Some reports said that he had returned to the Maha Vikas Aghadi. Whether that is true or not is hardly of any importance at this point of time.

 Race for Maharashtra: How BJPs Operation Lotus, termed masterful 72 hours ago, went off track, bringing state back to square one

Uddhav Thackeray gestures after he was chosen as the nominee for Maharashtra chief minister's post. PTI

This, of course, raises the question of the floor test. With the fledgling government of three days gone, there is clearly no question of a floor test anymore. This, in effect, probably means that after all the MLAs have been sworn in, the governor will have to invite Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, the leader of the three-party alliance, to form a government. It does appear at the moment that the alliance has the numbers to form a government quite comfortably.

That politics is a project of power is a cliché. So, too, is the understanding, in most contexts, that whatever works is legitimate – from chicanery through allurement to intimidation. The master strategists of the ruling party have the reputation of being able to deliver electoral results and governments. But Maharashtra will give this reputation a beating.

Let us consider Karnataka and Operation Lotus. In the May 2018 Assembly elections in the state, the BJP had won 104 seats in a house of 224 members. They had thus been short of the majority mark by nine seats. The party formed a government, nevertheless, but Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa had to resign when the Supreme Court ordered an expeditious floor test that left the BJP veteran little time to make up the numbers. The Congress moved nimbly, offering the Janata Dal (Secular) the chief ministerial office and a coalition government was formed.

Given that the alliance’s majority was wafer thin, the BJP launched Operation Lotus, the campaign to destabilise the government by luring away disgruntled MLAs from the fraught alliance. The coalition government duly fell in July 2019, after surviving for a little over a year. But the initial tactic of getting the governor to invite a party without a majority to form the government was a dismal failure. Let us remember that the BJP was just nine seats short of a majority and that there were three floating MLAs in the House, including belonging to the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Now let us return to Maharashtra. The BJP has 105 seats in a 288-member Assembly, and the majority mark is 145. On its own, therefore, the BJP is 40 seats short of a majority, compared to nine in Karnataka. The moment the Shiv Sena repudiated its pre-election alliance on the basis of the 50:50 demand and decided to team up with the NCP first, with the Congress buying in after some pretty lengthy confabulations, any rational person should have known that the game was up. A master strategist should just have retired hurt.

The chances of breaking any of the three parties that constituted the alliance were thin, given the numbers, which were Shiv Sena 56, NCP 54 and Congress 44. To break any of these parties, the BJP would have to wean away 38, 36 and 30 MLAs respectively. So, the master strategists broke the bank to invest in one person, Ajit Pawar, who would deliver the entire NCP legislature party to the BJP. Politically, it was a ludicrous plan in any circumstance, but with Sharad Pawar as the antagonist it was surreal. There was never any way the nephew was going to upstage the uncle, who, let us remember, is not exactly wet behind the ears.

Any rational strategist would have thought: Okay, these guys have between them 154 MLAs and they are attracting some floaters, so they ought to end up with something in the region of 160. But this alliance is one of the most thoroughly unprincipled and contradictory ones seen in recent times. The Shiv Sena is basically a majoritarian communal party, which is why it has been till recently the BJP’s oldest ally. The Congress is a non-ideological party on the whole but has been committed in its own way to secularism and diversity. The NCP is a completely opportunistic party.

Having demitted office, this thought seems suddenly to have struck Fadnavis. He told the media that his party had formed the government because a group of NCP legislators came to it. There’s a word for a statement like this: disingenuous, to be polite. He went on to say that he was sure that these three parties will run the government, but he feared – strange choice of words – that this government ‘is going to bow down under its own pressure’. The last part of the statement presumably meant that it is going to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.

If the strategists of the ruling party had arrived at this fairly simple conclusion a little earlier, they might have saved themselves the effort of indulging in convoluted chicanery and their party of some embarrassment.

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Updated Date: Nov 26, 2019 23:09:21 IST