The contradictions in Maharashtra | Opinion
Thirty-five days after the Maharashtra assembly election results were declared, the state will have a majority government when Uddhav Thackeray takes oath as the chief minister (CM) on November 28. The swearing in comes after the high-octane drama that led to the three-decade old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena alliance breaking and moves and countermoves to find new allies.
In the end, a clear winner has emerged for now — the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Sharad Pawar holds the cards to the future stability of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government. Bringing together the Congress, the NCP and the Sena on a single platform was no easy task, and the NCP has been the binding force. The NCP will hold key portfolios in the MVA government.
On the political front too, the NCP will reinforce its stature as the foremost Maratha party in the state. If the alliance survives for a year or two, several individual leaders who had left the NCP may come back to the fold. The legend of Sharad Pawar has grown, and the party will look to capitalise on it in the western Maharashtra region.
The Congress has been the reluctant participant in the alliance. It had to decide between partaking in the fruits of power and not upsetting its core vote bank by allying with the Sena. For now, practical considerations seem to have won. Reportedly, the move still does not have the backing of Rahul Gandhi. The Congress will have to keep re-evaluating its position regularly in case it comes under pressure, especially in Kerala.
The Sena had been very clear from the day of the results that its foremost concern was installing a CM from the party. Initially, the hard stand taken by the party was seen as posturing to secure bigger spoils from the BJP in a coalition government.
On this occasion, however, the Shiv Sena was serious about its intent. Even when in alliance with the BJP, the party had been shrinking. A national party like the BJP was always going to have growth aspirations, which means eating into the vote base of its opposition and allies alike. The Sena was losing out to the BJP in the state — quite evident from the two Lok Sabha and two assembly elections since 2014. The Sena had been rapidly losing its political space to the BJP in Mumbai and suburban areas outside the island city.
While the Sena has always been seen as a Hindutva force, the party was not formed that way. The Sena rose as a custodian of regional pride. It took up cudgels against the communists who attempted to stall industrial growth in the city in the 1970s and 80s. The party also advocated sons of the soil policies in administration, jobs and politics. It was only in the nineties that the Hindutva cause was fully espoused by the party.
With the Ram Janmabhoomi verdict out, Article 370 removed from Jammu and Kashmir, and baby steps towards some unification of civil codes, the Sena is perhaps betting that the Hindutva agenda may not have as much resonance as before. In fact, that agenda itself will need to be refreshed — a responsibility which solely vests with the BJP.
In going back to its regional focus and local roots, the Sena will cede space on national issues, but under the assumption that these issues, going forward, will be far less evocative and vote-catching. Admittedly, some of its leaders may eventually not like the idea of the MVA and defect — mostly to the BJP — especially in Marathwada where the party rose solely as a Hindutva force. However, no senior leader has jumped ship in the last month. It demonstrates that the Sena leadership was building up the idea of a split with the BJP for a while and enjoys the confidence of its cadre. The Sena has taken a calculated risk.
What the future has in store for the BJP will depend on how long the MVA lasts. Devendra Fadnavis will have to keep the pressure on the new alliance on a regular basis. His three-day alliance with Ajit Pawar may have cost him some goodwill, but on the balance, most BJP voters are not likely to be too perturbed about this sort of opportunism.
However, if the MVA manages to hold strong for a while, the BJP will have to rethink its comeback strategy, embracing precisely the changes it sought to negate: Caste equations, strength of local cooperative bodies, and promoting leaders from the western Maharashtra and the Marathwada region.
Most importantly, the BJP will now have to redefine what the Hindutva agenda means for Maharashtra and the country. There is no political rightwing formation which can take on the BJP as of now. Will losing the second largest state harden the party’s stance on various social and cultural issues, which it can then use to question the Sena?
Meanwhile, voters in Maharashtra will hope for stable governance, if not a stable government. The key concern is how the ongoing large infrastructure projects get impacted, if at all. India’s economic engine — 15% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in most years — is at stake.
Aashish Chandorkar is a public policy analyst based in Pune
The views expressed are personal
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