Maha fiasco can undermine BJP's muscular politics

The set back in Maharashtra is bound to spike BJP’s troubles with demanding allies in many other states even as it has boosted the morale of the Opposition. Photo/PTI

Mercifully the 32-day-old Maharashtra drama ended even before the finale of a floor test on a triumphant note for democracy and rule of law. But the anti-climax, after the stealth swearing-in of Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister and NCP rebel Ajit Pawar as deputy CM in the wee hours three days ago, left the BJP and, in particular, its tall leaders Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah and Governor BS Koshyari with egg on their faces.

While the misadventure in Maharashtra is a personal setback for Amit Shah, considered a modern-day ‘Chanakya’ of electoral politics, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar handled the biggest crisis of his political life with aplomb. Shah apparently miscalculated the tenacity of the wily Maratha and the street-smartness of the Shiv Sena. In fact, on Monday, a supremely confident Pawar had forewarned that “Maharashtra is not Goa”, an allusion to BJP forming a government in Goa sans majority. Even as he zealously guarded the NCP legislators against poaching, he did not burn all bridges with estranged nephew Ajit Pawar by not expelling him, thereby, keeping a window for communication open and eventually persuaded him to back off.

If the Supreme Court order directing floor test within 24 hours and the insistence of no-secret ballot and live telecast of the Assembly proceedings had been a dampener, Ajit Pawar’s U-turn by Tuesday afternoon caught the BJP unawares leaving it with no option but to throw in the towel rather than facing a bigger embarrassment on the floor of the House. Banking heavily on Ajit Pawar (against whom some corruption cases are pending) cost the BJP leadership dearly.

The set back in Maharashtra is bound to spike BJP’s troubles with demanding allies in many other states even as it has boosted the morale of the Opposition. The immediate fallout will be in Parliament where the Shiv Sena members (18 in the Lok Sabha), are sure to boost the shrillness of the Opposition voices in the coming days.

After the exit of its biggest ally Sena from the NDA, other restive allies such as the JD(U) in Bihar, Akali Dal in Punjab, LJP and AJSU in Jharkhand have started flexing their muscles. While LJP and AJSU have decided to quit the state alliance, the Akali Dal leadership last week, objecting to BJP’s big brotherly attitude, demanded the appointment of an NDA convener.

Amit Shah’s greed for a single-party rule had also got the goat of the Shiv Sena. According to party insiders, the BJP has been systematically expanding its base in Maharashtra over the years and Sena feared that eventually the BJP will capture power on its own. While Sena-BJP ties were cozier under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani, the takeover of the party by the Gujarati duo did create friction from time to time.

In the run-up to the 2014 general elections, Sena’s official mouthpiece – Saamana had in an editorial lamented: “Staying in Mumbai, they (Gujaratis) enjoyed wealth. They minted money… those who were penniless exploited Mumbai, Maharashtra and built their own Dwarka of gold and are calling the shots in the country’s power politics based on this wealth generated from Mumbai. They are chalking out plans on who is to be made the prime minister and who is to be deposed.”

While it is difficult to say if the adverse fallout in Maharashtra will impact BJP’s electoral fortunes in the upcoming by-elections in neighbouring Karnataka, it has come as a morale booster to the Congress at a time when the BJP is sending feelers to JD(S) to once again switch camps.

Interestingly, political and election strategist Prashant Kishor, who was appointed as JD(U) vice president by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar played a covert role in bringing together the most unlikely alliance of Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress. Kishor is also advising BJP’s bete noire and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and overseeing Trinamool Congress’s electoral strategy vis-a-vis BJP. Grapevine is that Kishor is again trying to bring the Grand Alliance comprising JD(U)-RJD-Congress together.

That the Sena-NCP-Congress camp was able to keep their flock together despite BJP’s ability to mobilise huge resources and poach Opposition MLAs with ease (as was the case in Goa and Karnataka) has surprised many even as analysts do not rule out the possibility of some hidden corporate hand in facilitating a Sena-NCP-Congress government in Mumbai. One can only hope that the new movers and shakers will not let the people of Maharashtra down.

(Kay Benedict is a New Delhi-based independent journalist)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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