BJP's risks paid off

Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray committed a miscalculation that redefined his party’s relations with BJP forever.  

The formation of the Maharashtra government led by Devendra Fadnavis after some initial drama is a masterstroke by BJP. The party received offers of support from its estranged ally Shiv Sena and Sharad Pawar’s NCP – who both fought independently and against BJP. This provides at least four pointers. One, BJP-Shiv Sena relations have been redefined for ever; two, BJP has acquired pan-Maharashtra presence and confidence after more than a quarter of a century; three, Sharad Pawar and his party may face bure din (bad days) in spite of offering ‘unconditional support’; and finally, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine withstood pressure in Maharashtra in respect of choosing the chief minister.

Some miscalculations are lifetime mistakes. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray committed one such that redefined his party’s relations with BJP forever.  Initially, BJP was prepared to treat itself junior partner of Sena in Maharashtra asking for 130 out of 288 seats -  about 45 per cent seats. But Sena’s insistence on giving only 119 seats dried-up BJP’s patience which decided to go alone to the disbelief of Sena that had over-estimated its indispensability for the Mahayuti (grand coalition). That not only ended the 25 year-old alliance but threw up unexpected challenge to both. They had partial presence in Maharashtra; BJP party structure was fragile in constituencies traditionally fought by Sena, and the latter had less robust presence in constituencies marked for BJP. Their break could have been advantageous to Congress-NCP coalition but that too broke down unexpectedly.

This gave BJP president Amit Shah an opportunity to exploit his organisational abilities to the full. He quickly selected 288 BJP candidates, put party teams in every constituency, planned and executed winning campaign strategies and finally won 122 seats. With Sena coming a distant second with 63 seats, their relations transformed significantly. That was proved when BJP got highest number of seats and votes in all six regions of Maharashtra except Konkan where Sena won highest seats and votes. And, also, BJP votes came not only from all social denominations, but from rural, semi-rural and urban Maharashtra.   The BJP success demonstrated that Shiv Sena can no longer claim monopoly over legacies of Chatrapati Shivaji, Bal Thackeray or Marathi manoos. The party staked claim over these legacies and amalgamated Marathi identity with Indian ethos. In this, Modi’s oratory and image of development man played great role. 

But, BJP’s masterstrokes were matched by Pawar’s. His moves surprised all and could be considered a classic case of political acrobatics. First, he roughed-up Congress by breaking Congress-NCP alliance enabling BJP to offset any possible disadvantage owing to its break with Sena. That gave BJP clear electoral advantage; with Sena, they would not be close to what they finally got. They were asking for just 130 seats; they would never have won 122 seats out of that. Without Sena, they were gainers courtesy Pawar.Two, Pawar ensured comfortable negotiating position for BJP vis-à-vis Sena for any possible post-poll alliance by his offer of unilateral and ‘unconditional’ support.

BJP appeared in no hurry to flatter Uddhav who had expected that with a larger Sena contingent, he would dictate terms. And, three, by openly declaring that NCP would abstain when Fadnavis goes for ‘confidence vote’ in Maharashtra assembly, Pawar has played his final trump-card ensuring smooth sailing for his government that day, humiliating Sena to the full and generating softness towards NCP in BJP camp.    

 Pawar’s moves created possibility of desertion in Sena camp because its MLAs were desperate for share in power after 15 years in the opposition. Pawar also tried to surreptitiously influence selection of the CM by engineering pitch for Nitin Gadkari who is considered Pawar’s ‘Man Friday’ in BJP. His appointment as CM would have given Pawar access to power even without being in government - just by supporting it from outside.

 Pawar backs Gadkari

Even without Gadkari in CM’s chair, Pawar’s offer – perhaps the first of its kind in recent history - would always have sobering impact on BJP government’s desire to fast track corruption cases against NCP ministers like former deputy CM Ajit Pawar and senior leaders like Sunil Tatkare, Chhagan Bhujal etc. By his smart moves, Pawar not only put BJP in advantageous position from day one, but also safeguarded interests of NCP to the maximum. How Fadnavis demonstrates party’s gratitude to this new found ally – a “naturally corrupt party” will be keenly watched.

 The choice of CM has also demonstrated the autonomy of BJP vis-à-vis RSS and other forces. Preferring a young and clean face over experience not only indicates leadership’s desire to give Maharashtra a CM dedicated to development but also ensure congruence between the CM and the PM. Also, the combination of Modi and Amit Shah has, in tandem, succeeded in asserting their authority notwithstanding Gadkari’s clout with RSS and Mohan Bhagwat’s involvement in the matter. This assertion is also significant in light of caste calculus within RSS which is largely dominated by non-OBC, non-Dalit, upper caste leadership at every tier of organisational hierarchy.

 However, recent credit for party performances being given to one or two individuals is against the ethos of sangh parivaar. Probably, RSS might be worried about that and may try to reassert its patronising character in future making its relations with party president and PM a little stressful. But, winning over 100 seats by any party in Maharashtra after quarter of a century, establishing itself all over state so quickly after break with Sena, reversing BJP-Sena relations and making itself superior and senior ally, causing NCP to offer unilateral and “unconditional support”, making Congress irrelevant, and, finally, forming government with great degree of autonomy from RSS – all point to meticulously planned and masterly executed BJP strategy in Maharashtra.          

(The writer is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, Christ Church College, Kanpur)

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