It is about the role reversal in state politics and the way the parties have adapted to it is partly surprising.
Post-2014 elections, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have become the opposition parties after ruling the state for 15 years while the Bharatiya Janata Party has become the ruling party. The Shiv Sena is part of the ruling combination but it also plays role of an opposition party sometimes so I am keeping this argument limited to other three parties.
Unlike during 1995-1999 when Shiv Sena-BJP alliance won power for the first time in the state and took time to realize that they were running the government, the BJP in 2014 is a different lot. The party, especially Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, knows how to behave like a ruling group and how to use its position in power to further the party’s political interest and agenda. The government is seen taking up several initiatives on rural and urban fronts. Their success in preventing an adverse public opinion against them after two years in power and the victory in three phases of civic polls are clear indications of the same. The way Fadnavis and some of his lieutenants are functioning has come as a surprise for many in political circles. In state’s political circles, earlier they used to say this in case of the parties like the Congress and its clone, the NCP that these parties knew how to use power to further their interest. The BJP-Sena on the other hand were seen as parties that were more comfortable playing role of an opposition. This was why, the way Fadnavis government has handled the Opposition in past two years has come as a surprise. And part of the role reversal in state politics which is not surprising is the failure of the opposition parties to corner the Fadnavis government on any issue. This is similar to the Congress’ reluctance to take on the then Sena-BJP government after losing power in 1995 assembly elections. It was only after Congress’ Sena import Chhagan Bhujbal and a team of then young MLAs such as R R Patil and Jayant Patil started launching attack on the government, the saffron combine suffered damage politically.
In past two years, there have been several allegations and controversies but nothing has damaged the ruling BJP much. Allegations of corruption or wrongdoing were made against seven ministers but it never looked like the government was pushed to corner. Former revenue minister Eknath Khadse’s ouster was the only exception but Opposition parties know that his removal from the state cabinet actually strengthened Fadnavis instead of weakening him.
The just concluded winter session of the State Legislature was yet another proof that the opposition parties are yet to learn the art of opposition. When the session began, the Opposition had lot of ammunition at its hands to corner the Fadnavis government---impact of demonetization on state’s economy especially the agriculture driven rural economy, incidents such as firing inside a bar involving sons of a BJP legislator and the leaked video of dairy development minister Mahadev Jankar allegedly pressurizing an election officer to cancel nomination of a Congress candidate. However, the Congress-NCP failed to do the same. District cooperative banks are backbone of the rural economy in large parts of Maharashtra. Leaving the cooperative network out while allowing banks to accept demonetized currency and issue new one affected the rural areas where farmers largely rely on cooperative banks and credit societies. The Congress-NCP opposition didn’t seem to be sure that they wanted to raise the issue aggressively.
In case of Jankar too, the two parties seemed confused over the stand to be taken. They simply did not have a strategy how to raise the issue and corner the government on the floor of the Legislature. The divide within the Opposition—not just between the Congress and the NCP but within the two parties too—was clearly visible. By comparison, Fadnavis and his minister in-charge of legislative affairs Vinod Tawde, seemed better prepared to take on the Opposition. The confusion in the Opposition ranks is turning out to be an advantage for the ruling BJP.