The state assembly elections, which generated plenty of heat and dust, have thrown up a fractured mandate. None of the four major political parties that contested on their own for the first time after almost 15 years of alliance politics got a clear-cut mandate.
The flood of bitterness over the protracted seat-sharing deliberations resulted in the break-up of the longstanding political alliance between the Shiv Sena and the BJP and did not recede even after the results. The Modi wave, which almost wiped out the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), continued in the state, reducing the influence of both the parties, yet failing to give the BJP a clear mandate even as the Shiv Sena fought tooth and nail to retain its sway over the state.
The result is disastrous for the state, which is facing an economic crisis and is floundering in the midst of mega scams. The BJP, which failed to obtain a simple majority, was worried about arm-twisting by the Sena, which had obtained a sizeable number of seats in the assembly elections. But the NCP, led by the Machiavellian Sharad Pawar, announced unconditional support from outside for the BJP. This move instantly reduced the bargaining power of the Shiv Sena, which was all set to extract a good bargain from the BJP in exchange for its support.
Pawar, in a single move, has killed many birds with one stone and given respectability to his party, which performed poorly and was pushed to fourth position after the BJP, the Sena and the Congress. Many have tried to understand the logic behind Pawar’s move, which he claims, was only based on providing a stable government in the state, despite the fractured mandate given by the people.
The move has also put the NCP on the right side of the powers in Delhi as well as the state BJP, which has denied any deal with Pawar for support from the outside. It has been a great relief for the state BJP, bent on taking the sting out of Sena assertiveness. Actually, the Sena performed very well even after separating from the BJP and took on Modi during the election campaign, but failed to bargain properly. Its no-holds-barred attitude during the campaign also caused immense damage, leaving no door open for negotiations in the post-election era.
Devendra Phadnavis has taken over reins of the state government along with nine others and has kept the issue of support from the Sena undecided. The government will have to ensure the passing of the confidence vote in the House without knowing if the Sena will join the government or sit in opposition. Though the BJP government is confident of winning the confidence motion, it is wary about the offer of unsolicited and unconditional support from the NCP. The NCP, which ruled the state along with the Congress, has moved away from the latter and now stands midway, supporting the BJP from the outside while it continues to support Modi Government in Delhi on the basis of issues. This suits Pawar, who can thus be on the right side of the ruling power in the state and at the same time, maintains his ideological stand of secularism.
Pawar draws his political strength from the dominant Maratha community in the state and the all-powerful cooperative sector, which controls rural economy and dominates political structure. However, the vote percentage and results of both, the Lok Sabha and the assembly elections show that the cooperatives’ overwhelming control over rural economy by the NCP, as well as the Congress, no more exists. The BJP, along with the Shiv Sena, have made inroads into rural Maharashtra and almost ended the monopoly of the Congress parties in western Maharashtra.
The BJP, which was riding on a high horse initially, realised how slippery it could be to run a state government on the basis of unconditional support from the NCP. It had been criticising corruption in irrigation and energy departments of the erstwhile state government, threatening action against NCP stalwarts if voted to power. Now, BJP critics are asking whether it will keep its promise to act against corruption if its government’s very survival depends on the NCP, which will certainly try to defend its stalwarts. Despite all the brave statements and aggressive posturing by the new government which is talking about bringing out a white paper on economic condition of the state, the BJP floor managers are asking for restraint.
Despite Modi at the centre and Amit Shah at the helm of the party’s affairs, all is not well with the BJP, which has cobbled up a mini government on the lines of Modi Government in Delhi. Devendra Phadnavis is one of the party’s firebrand, non-corrupt leaders, preferred by Modi as well as Amit Shah to be the first BJP chief minister of the most important state in the country.
Had Gopinath Munde been around, he would have been the natural choice for the post, since he was one of the stalwarts who helped the party expand in rural areas and made it more socially broad-based, by including many OBCs in its ranks.
The former chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, though leader of the defeated party, has not given up and will be vying for the leadership of the state legislative Congress. If the Sena joins the government, then the Congress group leader can become the leader of the opposition in the state legislative assembly.
The talks between the Sena and the BJP over power-sharing continue. The party may join the government or sit in the opposition, but the tension between the two will continue to trouble the state government as well as the state polity in future. The Sena wants the BJP to continue with the spirit of the old alliance – the Mahayuti, and give it the pleasure of appointing the deputy chief minister in the Fadnavis Government, but the BJP is not yet willing to give in.
Uddhav Thackeray has had a difficult time in dealing with an upbeat BJP after it has emerged as the single largest party in the state, diminishing the Sena’s claim. He is under tremendous pressure from the party MLAs to join the government without much fuss over self-respect and political correctness, since they have been functioning from the opposition for the last 15 years. Thackeray, who was upset by Pawar’s move initially, has regained his composure and now knows that the BJP also needs his support. As a result, he is not pushing the BJP at this juncture, hoping that some face-saving formula based on mutual respect could be worked out amicably.
The hawks in the BJP are not giving in, as they have already got plum portfolios like revenue, home, finance, forests and education already distributed among BJP ministers or retained by the CM himself, leaving very little room for bargaining. But the Sena knows that the portfolios can be reallocated if the BJP is seriously seeking their support. In keeping with the Modi dictate of minimum government with maximum governance, the size of the government is small.
Whether the Sena joins the government or the latter will have to depend on outside support from the Pawar-led NCP, the state will have a tough time in the coming five years, as lots of arm-twisting and political compromises must take place keep this minority government going.
Prakash Bal Joshi
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