Maharashtra: The impact of an unlikely coalition
That Maharashtra will soon have a Shiv Sena government, with participation from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, is now almost a given. Barring a last-minute veto by Rahul Gandhi, or a heavy-handed doubling down by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Uddhav Thackeray will soon take oath under a common minimum programme (CMP) as chief minister of an unlikely alliance. The three parties are said to be working towards a CMP to guide their government.
The NCP has been out of power for the last five years, and has also lost control of most of its municipal bodies. The Congress has staged a comeback in many states, but Maharashtra — India’s largest state economy — has a different and unmatched allure. The Sena was in power with the BJP , but was not in control, as Devendra Fadnavis kept his ministers on a tight leash.
In politics, ideologies and past enmities are secondary and subservient to egos and the need for power. Maharashtra is witnessing this phenomenon, as the Sena has all but pulled out of its alliance with the BJP. If the Sena-NCP-Congress government is indeed formed, the state’s politics and administration will see a churn at many levels.
First, the political fate of the Sena will be a matter for debate. It appears that the Sena top brass was well prepared for this day, as no single big voice has questioned Uddhav Thackeray on his breaking ties with the BJP. However, an alliance with the NCP and the Congress will certainly have a debilitating impact on its cadre in areas where Hindutva politics takes precedence over caste politics. The Sena’s local leaders in the Mumbai metropolitan region and Marathwada will find it hard to digest the change. However, in western Maharashtra, the new alliance can easily trump the BJP for the most part.
Second, the Congress will have to explain this alliance to its voter base, especially the minority voters, outside Maharashtra. Within the state, this is not a big challenge, as Congress voters will be very happy to see the back of Devendra Fadnavis and the BJP. But in the southern states, where the BJP does not have a strong presence, the Congress risks losing its vote to the regional parties.
Third, the CMP is likely to place limits on the Sena’s tilt towards Hindutva. Its response to the Ram Janmabhoomi verdict by the Supreme Court was muted and artificial, given the background of its political ascendency in the early 1990s. The party has regularly demanded a Bharat Ratna for Veer Savarkar, a name which is anathema to every Congress member. These conflicts will have to be resolved through the CMP, and the stated position explained to the respective electorate by the side which gives up its claim.
Fourth, Mumbai’s infrastructure projects may come under fresh onslaught by the new government. The Sena has been opposing the Metro-3 car shed at the Aarey Colony. The new government may move to either scrap the site or redesign the project, either of which will result in delays. Other metro lines too may be reviewed, and a realignment and fresh planning cannot be ruled out.
The road transport department was with the Sena in the Fadnavis government. The Maharashtra state road development corporation had undertaken two big projects — the Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi Mahamarg and the Mumbai-Pune Expressway Missing Link project. The Congress and the NCP had opposed the former, especially the process of land acquisition. If the CMP does not explicitly address these potential conflicts, the ongoing projects could face delays.
Fifth, the administrative set-up in the state will most definitely see changes. The three officers most likely to be shunted out will be Praveen Pardeshi, Ashwini Bhide and Ashwini Joshi. Pardeshi, currently the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) commissioner, was in the CM’s office with Fadnavis for four years and is considered close to him. Bhide, the chief of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation, has been in the Shiv Sena crosshairs on the Aarey Colony depot issue. Joshi, additional municipal commissioner in the BMC, may face a no-confidence motion by the Sena corporators.
The exit of key officers will again put a question mark on various infrastructure projects going on in the state, specially the transportation projects in Mumbai.
While social media in the state has been polarised on the issue of the Sena going its own way, the step has not yet met great resistance from Sena leaders of any note. Unless there is an internal rebellion against the decision made by Thackeray, there is no impediment to him taking over as the next CM.
What the BJP does remains to be seen. So far, the party has refrained from any public posturing on government formation. After Fadnavis walked away from taking a shot at forming the new government, sympathy for him has increased, especially in urban centres in the state.
BL Santhosh, the general secretary (organisation) of the BJP, recently praised Fadnavis for his patience. This has come as a shot in the arm for him. However, it appears that, for now, the BJP is content with its wait-and-watch approach.
Every day of President’s rule continues to frustrate the voters looking at Mumbai to address the current problems of crop losses and bad road conditions. Maharashtra is eagerly waiting a new government.
Only time will tell whether the government stays in office for the full term, or collapses under the weight of its own contradictions.
Aashish Chandorkar is a public policy analyst based in Pune
The views expressed are personal