Act One of the Maharashtra drama is about to end. The installation of a three-party government formally headed by the Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray but in reality remote-controlled by the NCP super-boss Sharad Pawar is next on the cards. The decks were cleared for the betrayer-in-chief to realize his life’s dream of heading the Maharashtra Government on Tuesday morning following the Supreme Court. It ordered the Devendra Fadnavis Government to conduct the floor-test in the newly-constituted Assembly after the swearing-in of the MLAs by a pro-tem Speaker who will be its oldest serving member. That put paid to the chief ministership of Fadnavis. Soon the Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar allowed himself to be persuaded by his uncle to go back to the NCP. His gamble had failed. The uncle, contrary to his reputation of springing a surprise at the last moment, had decided to play with a straight bat at this late stage in his life. He had to take care of his daughter Supriya Sule’s future rather than allow the rebel nephew to hijack the party he had founded. As for Fadnavis, he had nowhere to hide. His action in installing himself as CM in a nocturnal operation would sully his reputation. Even though he had good reason to feel betrayed by the Sena, the pre-poll partner, and felt cheated of chief ministership, he ought to have been patient and should have allowed the Sena to cringe and crawl for a new alliance with the Congress and the NCP. The manner in which he rushed headlong to be sworn in as CM along with Ajit Pawar as his deputy was scandalous. Instead, if he had waited on the sidelines, watched the ugly goings-on for the loaves and fishes of office among the leaders of the three parties, his cause would have been better served. Pulling out an Ajit Pawar from the Aghadi government in that case would have been the end of the hurriedly put together three-way alliance. Fadnavis’s three-and-half-day government only helped to bring the three partners closer. Now, he would have to do penance in the Opposition and wait for the ~tigdi~ to fall apart under the weight of its own contradictions. Again, regardless of Fadnavis’s effort to shield the central leadership, there can be no denying that both the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister erred in orchestrating an early morning drama in the Mumbai Raj Bhawan. It did not redound to anyone’s credit. Government by stealth it was which underlined how with each passing day we have come to disregard the constitutional spirit while over-stretching its provisions to suit partisan political interests. However, it can be a matter of satisfaction that despite huge odds, despite rampant illiteracy, poverty and hunger, the Indian Constitution has survived a full 69 years and on Tuesday it marked its 70th birthday. The day is all the more important given that, as a study of world constitutions in the last over 200 years revealed, the average longevity of constitutions is about a mere 17 years. Therefore, the sordid drama now being enacted in Maharashtra ought not to demoralise the people.
Our politicians muddle through alright, but in the end constitutional checks and balances do come into play. In this case, it took the Supreme Court to call Fadnavis’-Ajit Pawar’s bluff. They banked on desertions from both the NCP and the Sena but senior Pawar, contrary to his own reputation, this time refused to somersault. Going with the Sena to secure the future of his daughter and potential political heir dictated that he rule Maharashtra yet again. His nephew after his desertion and return to the fold in sackcloth and ashes would find his hold on the NCP vastly diminished. As for the Congress, it will hope it can use the stint in power to stop its slide in a State where an ascendant BJP and an extremist Hinduwadi Sena was threatening to marginalize it fully. The Sena might come to grief after this truly unholy alliance of the ideological opposites. Its saffron colours will dim considerably while its propensity to resort to the strong-arm tactics might now recoil on it. Indeed, Raj Thackeray’s Nav Nirman Sena might find some traction in the altered political landscape in Maharashtra. Finally, the corruption probe against Ajit Pawar, even though it is claimed that the withdrawal of nine FIRs by the anti-corruption bureau on Monday had nothing to do with him, will become a matter of contention between the Aghadi government and the BJP Opposition. Maharashtra politics is undergoing a huge churn. Which way it will turn in the near future is hard to say. But without doubt the BJP has lost face in the manner in which it installed Fadnavis as Chief Minister and the abject way he quit. An otherwise decent politician played blind while his detractors held the trump cards. He should do time in Opposition and wait for the Aghadi to come unstuck. And unstuck it will, sooner than most people think because it is not in Sena’s blood to stop being well… Sena.