To BJP’s Caesar, Sena’s Brutus: The Maha Message

We don’t know which way the government formation imbroglio in Maharashtra will end. At this stage, all sorts of possibilities are being discussed. Whichever way this ends, there are some striking lessons in the way the BJP has been checkmated by its partner of more than 25 years. In politics as in life, challenges can come from the unlikeliest of quarters, in the unlikeliest of ways, and victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat, just as defeat can be inflicted when victory is assured. So it is in Maharashtra, where the BJP-Shiv Sena has run what has been the most enduring political alliance in recent times.

Yet for the Shiv Sena, the writing on the wall is clear. The BJP is eating into its vote share, and it is only a matter of time before the national party effectively swallows up the local party that has its roots in standing up for the Marathi manoos. Clearly, from the Sena’s perspective, the BJP has to be stopped. It is quite easy to love God, and fight for Lord Ram and the temple at Ayodhya. Loving your political partner – well, that’s not always easy!

Seen in this light, discussions toward an alliance between the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress to snatch power from the BJP is not as odd as it is made to sound. It is true that the mandate was for the BJP-Shiv Sena combine, that they were in a pre-poll alliance and they fought against the Congress-NCP alliance. In terms of vote share, too, the ruling party alliance won with 42.17% of the votes, the Congress-NCP got 32.58% and clearly lost, though they did better than was expected of them. Yet, that is the picture on the surface. Dig a little, and you will see the fissures that are inevitable when a large, centralised party, led today essentially by two people who wield overwhelming control and a thumping national mandate to boot, gets perceived as a monolith that can hammer away at any other political force, including its allies.

Here is the case of the BJP ready and willing to break a long-standing alliance rather than share the office of the chief minister with its ally of 25 years. It’s a simple and clear argument: The BJP is the bigger party. The BJP rules at the Centre. How can the Shiv Sena dictate to this party? Or, how long can they hold out against it? The case against this is equally clear from the Sena’s perspective: If the Sena doesn’t assert its rights, the BJP, with all its political and money power, will snatch the ground from under its feet. So better it is to break the alliance now rather than repent later. There is nothing more to be gained by the Sena by being in alliance with the BJP once the latter has become too big for comfort.

In that framing is a larger reality of what is going wrong for the BJP leadership at the political level, apart from the disappearing jobs, the failing economy, the rising tensions (and lately, rising inflation). The opposition is decimated but now the allies can begin to see the party and its ways as a threat. The BJP, it seems, is now perfectly poised to put off friends and foes alike as it takes on the colour of a party that will work on backward and forward integration so that it controls all levers of power – from panchayats to parliament, from institutions to civil society groups and from social media to government media. What space is then left for others to play on, and this question gets asked less by the decimated opposition and more anxiously by allies like the Shiv Sena.

It is true that a good part of the opposition has been silenced, that institutions have bent to the demands of the powers that be and that there are many despondent at the direction of the nation. But, while the BJP has had its way and has pushed the political agenda in the direction it desires, in its stupendous success it has sown the seeds of discontent in the unlikeliest of corners. In Maharashtra, it has taken the form of a local party asserting its local pride and standing up to what it will now present as diktats from New Delhi and the sultans who control the BJP. Of course, this is only one probable way the impasse will end and there are other political options playing out in the background. But this much can be said: trust between the BJP and the Shiv Sena is lost. This loss of trust is a local event, but it casts a long shadow on the national scene in the sense that it messages the party and its powerful leadership duo as not worthy of trust by its own allies. And in the strange ways in which systems can hit back, it is the Shiv Sena of all parties that has blown the whistle and started to fight back –- to protect itself, and who knows, maybe even begin the journey to reclaim the space of centrist politics that has been pulled far too much to the right by the BJP.

In all its success, the BJP never had the ways of building together in an inclusive manner. As the writer and teacher Donella H. Meadows wrote in her book ‘Thinking in Systems’, quoting a Sufi teaching story: “You think that because you understand ‘one’ that you must therefore understand ‘two’ because one and one make two. But you forget that you must also understand ‘and’.”

(The writer is a journalist and a faculty member at SPJIMR) (The Billion Press) 

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