Over the past week, as suspense continued over how the minority BJP government in Maharashtra will get the numbers, I was both startled and tickled pink at the feedback I received from common people over the party’s two possible allies: the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Of course, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray ultimately did make it to the swearing-in of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and I think that gives the BJP a better chance at stability and running a comparatively cleaner government than aligning with the NCP would have. But even as the entire lot of tainted former NCP ministers made their way to the Fadnavis event at the Wankhede Stadium, which was given free of cost to the BJP by the Mumbai Cricket Association that is under the control of Sharad Pawar (and one needs a timely reminder here that with Pawar there are no free lunches), I was in splits at the reaction of common observers. “Begaani shaadi mein Abdullah deewana hoke bin bulaaye poori baraat le aaya!’’ a wise old middle class gentleman told me, with no twinkle in his eye, though. He was rather disgusted.
But there were others like him who were rather taken in by Uddhav Thackeray’s dignified demeanour at the swearing-in – and, of course, his earlier performance in the assembly election.
“Ek hi mard neta reha gayaa jisne Narendra Modi ko aade haath lene ki himmat dikhai hai,’’ one gentleman told me. He is a non-Maharashtrian and not a Shiv Sena supporter by a long shot so I was startled by his admiration of the Sena leader. Uddhav is now being described as a “chotta tiger’’ by many and I have to say that with his back to the wall, 12 stents in his heart and only 20 days to deliver a good show, Uddhav has done far better than his father, Bal Thackeray, ever did. The Shiv Sena got half as many seats as the BJP whose star campaigner had six months or more and an overwhelming charisma on his side and this poll result of the Sena can be considered a pretty good show.
At his best, Bal Thackeray never got more than one MLA at a time in any election and both the Congress and the NCP as well as the BJP must beware — for the Sena always fights well when driven into a corner and comes back to a position of strength when we tend to write it off. The Sena still has a formidable cadre that can get the better of the RSS pracharaks and humiliating Uddhav for his electoral stance may be undertaken only at the BJP’s own peril.
However, whatever the piquancy of the electoral verdict, I believe it has been rather good for Maharashtra for at least now: The complete dependence on an ally can be shrugged off by the ruling party – and for one very good reason. The Sena and the BJP began the tradition of equalising their partnership by hiving the home department from the chief minister’s office and awarding it to the junior ally (the BJP in 1995-99 and the NCP from 1999 to 2014).
This led to a lot of deterioration in the police force in the last two decades because they did not know who their boss was (the CM or the deputy CM or, in the case of the NCP both the deputy CM and the home minister). And even if they did, they were not beyond playing one against the other: It is my belief that the mishandling of the 26/11 attacks happened essentially because of this split in authority. Even Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena was allowed to get away with a lot of his anti-north Indian shenanigans because both the Congress and the NCP were playing him against each other. So I believe that Fadnavis did the best thing: kept the home department with himself and not awarded it even to a senior colleague in the BJP.
Over the past two decades, various CMs have blamed the compulsions of coalition politics for their lacklustre performances. Fadnavis will not have the luxury of that excuse: His government will have to perform or be compelled to bite the dust at the next elections.