Maharashtra future depends on 3-way balance | Analysis
The Maharashtra imbroglio, therefore, isn’t about broken pacts or promises. It’s as crass as a power tussle can get. We’ve seen glimpses of it in Karnataka, Goa and Meghalaya. Haryana witnessed it more recently.Updated: Nov 20, 2019 05:52 IST
In Indian politics, fair play, morality and propriety are often used as terms of convenience – to be preached more, and practised less.
The Maharashtra imbroglio, therefore, isn’t about broken pacts or promises. It’s as crass as a power tussle can get. We’ve seen glimpses of it in Karnataka, Goa and Meghalaya. Haryana witnessed it more recently.
Most post-poll pacts the media terms “unholy” are stratagem overriding ideology to overwhelm adversaries in the absence of decisive mandates. The route got traversed first in the formation of the short-lived Samyutka Vidhayak Dal (SVD) regimes in the 1960s. It acquired credence again in the 1980s, when Rajiv Gandhi rode on a sympathy wave after Indira Gandhi’s assassination to log a brute majority in the Lok Sabha.
The man who then returned to the drawing board was the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) LK Advani. To tame the leviathan the Congress was, he tied up with the rabble-rousing Shiv Sena. The “proximate” bunny hop he later did with the Marxists to prop up the post-Bofors VP Singh government consolidated anti-Congressism like never before, dislodging Rajiv Gandhi from power.
Advani, at that point, termed the pact with the Sena as a tactical move to sharpen the BJP’s Hindutva. Its culmination was his withdrawal of support to the VP Singh government on the Ram temple issue.
A reverse application of the Advani template can explain the equally glaring expediency of the Congress-Nationalistic Congress Party (NCP) alliance in working out a governance arrangement with the hitherto “untouchable” Sena. In realpolitik terms, it tears the BJP away from its foremost ideological ally, denting the very Hindutva that brought them together.
Why alliance-building is now taking time is a no-brainer. For its durability and popular acceptance, the coalition, if it comes about, will need to be curated deftly and run efficiently. It will be foolhardy to rush into the pact without addressing the stakeholders’ fundamental concerns that are in conflict, and could cause friction in the short, medium or long term depending on the longevity of the accord. Foremost among them will be the Sena’s shrill Hindutva and its advocacy of the interests of the natives against migrants from other states, especially Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
If it does not mess up and plays its cards well, the Congress will have an opportunity to live down what Sonia Gandh called the “Muslim party” image foisted on it by the BJP.
It will be for her a conscious call, coming close on the heels of the Congress’s acceptance of the Supreme Court verdict paving the way for a Ram temple in Ayodhya. The Congress crossed the psychological barrier and began talks when the BJP threw up its hands and the Sena broke their over three-decade-old companionship.
The Congress has obvious worries in taking the process forward, notably the fallout in Kerala (from where Rahul Gandhi is elected) of it being part of a Sena-led dispensation. The only way it can duck the communists’ darts there is by selling the Maharashtra experiment as a precursor to a nationwide project to promote anti-BJPism on bread-and-butter issues.
If the Congress and the NCP ink the deal, they can secure multiple objectives: oust the BJP from power in Maharashtra; weaken the National Democratic Alliance (NDA); satisfy intra-party regional sentiment to obviate another round of defections from their ranks and regain political space in the country’s financial capital. The ripple effect of it all on the NDA’s internal dynamics is visible already, with the BJP’s lesser partners emboldened to assert themselves.
A non-BJP regime in Maharashtra will also be a befitting retribution from the Congress and the NCP.
The BJP poached freely from their stable in the run-up to the assembly polls. Over 30 of their leaders were lured to the saffron camp. Of them, 16, including former Leader of Opposition Ramachandra Vikhe Patil, made it to the new assembly.
Combined with 43 other seats where Prakash Ambedkar and Asaddudin Owaisi’s parties played spoilers, the BJP could not sustain its pre-election advantage. Its individual tally dipped to 105 in the House of 288, making the Sena demand the CM’s office it was unwilling to concede.
If the Sena comes to occupy the office it covets, the question will be, how long can it keep it, and with what aplomb? Much will depend on the cordiality of the proposed three-sided entente in the state that sends the second-largest group of members to the Lok Sabha.