The drama in Maharashtra, leading to the improbable formation of a Congress-Shiv Sena-NCP government, provides an appropriate moment to take stock of the current and emerging political landscape. Politics in India is never static. Conventional assumptions, popular responses and interparty equations are forever in flux. What are the key takeaways, post Maharashtra, as we look at the political horizon ahead?
First, ideology is even more dead than it was in the past. Parties adhere to the glue of power, not attachment to principles. In fact, the greater the ideological compromise, the more principles are invoked to justify the betrayal.
BJP and Shiv Sena were pre-poll allies. They won the mandate to govern. Once they fell out, Shiv Sena’s alliance with Congress and NCP signified the mother of all political compromises, given the other two parties’ public – and emphatic – differences with the hardline Hindutva based Shiv Sena. Similarly, BJP’s readiness to join hands with Ajit Pawar, whom they had relentlessly accused for massive corruption, demonstrated the burial of principle for power.
Second, Maharashtra tested BJP on the choice between imperium and accommodation. Perhaps, Shiv Sena was being unreasonable in demanding – with lesser seats – a 50:50 power sharing arrangement with BJP, including rotating chief ministers. But BJP too had the choice of opting for strategic flexibility in yielding to Shiv Sena, given the fact that Shiv Sena is the longest standing ally of BJP in NDA, and the two were pre-poll allies.
The fact that BJP chose not to do this, sends a lesson to all the allies in NDA. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had coined the phrase ‘coalition dharma’. Essentially, it was about giving respect to your allies even if BJP is the largest constituent in the coalition.
However, in a recent TV debate, one prominent BJP spokesperson said that his party should have fought alone on all the seats in Maharashtra. If this is what the party is now thinking it should have done in Maharashtra, why would it not think of doing it say in Bihar, where it is in alliance with JD(U)? The spokesperson also said that the allies always benefit from BJP, and not the other way around. Such sentiments cause apprehensions among allies. They indicate a supremacist unilateralism, not coalitional solidarity.
Third, Maharashtra was important for severely denting the monopoly of Chanakyan politics that BJP has used to give itself the veneer of invincibility. The hasty alliance with Ajit Pawar was an unmitigated disaster. It showed lack of planning, misjudgment, irresponsible decision making and misplaced confidence.
The late night drama, with an early morning swearing in, displayed gross incompetence. Unfortunately, it implicated the PM himself, for at an unearthly hour in the morning he had to take the decision to bypass the Cabinet to recommend the lifting of President’s rule. Till the very end BJP’s top leadership believed – as per reliable reports – that Devendra Fadnavis would manage to win the trust vote.
The hero in this sordid episode was, of course, the Supreme Court (SC). There were many in BJP who believed that the highest court in the land would give seven to fourteen days to Fadnavis to prove his majority. But the learned judges were in no mood to encourage the ugly spectacle of horse trading. Their decision that the BJP-Ajit Pawar combine should prove their majority the very next day put paid to all such possibilities.
Fourth, Maharashtra confronts BJP with choices it must make between projecting a national narrative as against focussing on local issues of real interest to the voters. For instance, during the electoral campaign, BJP leadership waxed eloquent on such ‘achievements’ as the nullification of Article 370, when the voter was far more interested on specific issues pertaining to her quality of life, such as agrarian distress and the absence of jobs. BJP must introspect on whether there are diminishing electoral returns from its ultra-right Hindutva politics.
Is there a fatigue setting in from a supra-national narrative of constant drum beating that highlights the divisions in society, valourises a pliant media, and remains in denial about the slowdown in the economy? The people of India – by and large – do not want the spectre of constant turbulence, acrimony and instability.
Fifth – and lastly – Maharashtra once again highlights the comatose condition of the national opposition. Incremental, unstable and uncertain gains such as the formation of the current government in Maharashtra, are no substitute for a proactive and structured pan-Indian opposition narrative that alone can take on the might of BJP’s electoral machine.
In fact, as Maharashtra shows, BJP’s real strength is a status quoist and splintered opposition, with no face that can match the charisma of Narendra Modi. Sometimes, this rag-tag opposition can come together to finesse BJP, as in Maharashtra. But ultimately the opposition has to be more than some disparate leaders venting their individual angst in a few regional strongholds. The biggest lesson in this is for Congress, the largest opposition party. It stood fourth and at the bottom of the electoral sweepstakes in Maharashtra.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.