Fadnavis falls: BJP overplayed its hand, stands isolated. SC’s floor test prescription succeeds yet again

In a near replay of its 2018 Karnataka misadventure, the three-day-old Maharashtra BJP government was forced to admit defeat and bow out of office the moment Supreme Court prescribed the test of floor strength. The collateral damage is greater this time. The pre-dawn paperwork that facilitated the secretive swearing in ceremony for Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar had dragged three important public offices into an unnecessary controversy: that of Maharashtra governor BS Koshyari and with him the Prime Minister’s Office and Rashtrapati Bhavan. BJP will want to reassess the utility of such myopic power grab exercises when numbers clearly are not in its favour.

BJP may have succeeded in Goa and Manipur but the opposition has also upped its game since then. This was evident in the manner in which Congress geared up to meet the BJP’s escalation of stakes during Ahmed Patel’s Rajya Sabha election and the 2018 invitation by Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala to BS Yediyurappa to form government. The urgency behind the Fadnavis-Pawar installation was the first indication that the newly minted combine did not have the numbers. The Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress “Aghadi” quickly put behind it the setback to mount a strong legal fight, before parading their MLAs on Monday evening for all to see.

Having fallen out with pre-poll partner Shiv Sena and not making headway in wooing Sharad Pawar, BJP turned to his nephew Ajit. But it appears that BJP gambled on the wrong horse, with Ajit failing to loosen his uncle’s grip over the party. Now that Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress are staking claim to form the government with a majority on the floor of the house, other options like assembly dissolution must be off the table for governor Koshyari. Elections are an expensive proposition and can’t be held again and again at such short intervals. Whichever group has the numbers must be allowed to form the government.

The Maharashtra gambit has virtually isolated BJP, evident in the Opposition’s boycotting of the joint session of both Houses of Parliament to mark the 70th anniversary of the Constitution. This was a prestigious moment for the country and the government but the events in Maharashtra have clouded the Constitution Day celebrations. Like in Karnataka, BJP will do better to play the waiting game and be the constructive opposition while watching Sena, NCP and Congress manage their contradictions.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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