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Monday, Dec 16, 2019

The Maharashtra dilemma | HT editorial

The BJP does not have the numbers. Others lack political coherence

editorials Updated: Nov 11, 2019 21:45 IST

Hindustan Times
The Sena, on Monday, attempted to cobble together a coalition with Mr Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). But this was contingent on the Congress, which has emerged as the swing force. (Photo @ShivSena)
The Sena, on Monday, attempted to cobble together a coalition with Mr Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). But this was contingent on the Congress, which has emerged as the swing force. (Photo @ShivSena)
         

The Maharashtra election was supposed to cement the status of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the leading force in the state; reduce the Shiv Sena to a minor adjunct; mark the end of Sharad Pawar’s career; and devastate the Congress. The BJP did emerge as the single-largest party, but was short of a majority. The Sena was indeed the junior partner, but retained enough heft to bargain for rotational chief ministership. Mr Pawar showed why he could not be underestimated, retaining his base, and coming a credible third. The Congress did come last, but the bar for it was so low that it did better than expected.

All this affected power negotiations. The BJP was clear that the government would be led by Devendra Fadnavis. The Sena’s posturing turned out to be more than just posturing; it was serious about claiming chief ministership. Its negotiations with Mr Pawar assumed intensity, even as the latter waited for the Sena to make a formal break with the BJP. And the Congress, desperate to keep the BJP out of power, and primarily guided by Mr Pawar, began entertaining the idea of an alternative alliance.

This is what has led to the political drama over the past two days. The two oldest allies of the National Democratic Alliance have split. The BJP may lose political power in one of India’s most crucial states. But it is not quite clear what will replace it. The Sena, on Monday, attempted to cobble together a coalition with Mr Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). But this was contingent on the Congress, which has emerged as the swing force. It remained divided between those who advocated any step to keep the BJP out, and those who believe that supporting the Sena would mark ideological surrender. Meanwhile, the time given by the Governor to the Sena to stake claim ran out, and he has now invited the NCP. All of this means that the BJP lacks arithmetic, and others lack political coherence. The Karnataka experiment, in which non-BJP parties cobbled together an alliance, is a stark example of the fleeting nature of such experiments. The voters of Maharashtra gave a somewhat fragmented verdict; the political class has made it worse.