29 Nov 2019 17:17 IST

The political imbroglio in Maharashtra

The rapid developments following the Assembly elections made a mockery of the democratic process

It is tempting to compare the recent political machinations in Maharashtra, with their breathtaking twists and turns, to a Bollywood potboiler or last year’s IPL final (when Mumbai defeated Chennai by just one run). But that would, in many ways, be trivialising the issues on hand.

A quick recap: The Maharashtra election results were out on October 25, more than a month ago. The BJP-Shiv Sena combine won 161 seats (BJP — 105 and Shiv Sena — 56). The NCP and the Congress surprised themselves and everyone else by winning 54 and 44 seats respectively. The Congress’ performance was especially surprising given its rather lacklustre campaign. From the Opposition ranks, it was veteran Sharad Pawar who took on the BJP-Shiv Sena’s might, and ran a spirited campaign.

So the mandate was decisively in favour of the BJP-Shiv Sena combine. Then, how did this alliance unravel with such astonishing speed after the results were out? The alliance partners started bickering soon after the results were out, and had a very public fallout, with both the BJP and the Shiv Sena accusing each other for the alliance’s collapse. What’s even more surprising was, this time around, the BJP and the Shiv Sena had a proper pre-poll alliance sewed up, unlike in the 2014 Assembly elections when both these parties fought separately and got together only after the results were declared.

The BJP was perhaps initially taken aback by the Shiv Sena’s alacrity in reaching out to rivals NCP and Congress to form a government. The Governor, after inviting the BJP, Shiv Sena and the NCP to form governments, ultimately recommended President’s rule when these parties expressed their inability to form government, though the Shiv Sena’s plea for more time fell on deaf ears.

Playing the trump card

Last Friday, just when the Shiv Sena was on the verge of sealing a deal with the NCP and the Congress, and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was going to be announced as the Chief Minister candidate, the BJP played, what it thought was its trump card. The BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in as Chief Minister and NCP’s Ajit Pawar, Sharad Pawar’s nephew, as the Deputy Chief Minister. The BJP’s machinations in engineering a split in the NCP to form the government would have made even Nicolo Machiavelli proud. The Central government’s role in this whole sordid matter also raises some serious issues of Constitutional propriety.

The matter predictably reached the Supreme Court, which declared a floor test by Wednesday evening. The drama came to anti-climax when Ajit Pawar resigned on Tuesday afternoon. Knowing that his game was up, Fadnavis too announced his resignation at a press conference, making the floor test irrelevant.

So now we have the Maha Vikas Aghadi — a Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government — in place, with Uddhav Thackeray as Chief Minister.

Poaching and herding

This Maharashtra saga has raised many disturbing issues about India’s political culture. That political parties will poach each others’ MLAs by offering money or ministerial berths is a given. That MLAs, in the case of a hung Assembly, will be herded at resorts and hotels to make sure that they don’t cross over is also a given. This is the ‘new normal’ in Indian politics.

But, from a political point of view, how did the BJP and its chief, Amit Shah, who are so shrewd in outwitting their opponents, let political power slip from their hands, that too in a politically and economically significant State like Maharashtra?

Many questions have also been asked about the Congress’ unholy embrace of ideological foe, Shiv Sena. How could a secular party such as the Congress join hands with a hardcore Hindutva party such as the Shiv Sena?

There are two ways of looking at this seemingly unprincipled alliance. One, given the Congress party’s ‘soft Hindutva’ approach over the last few years (remember ‘Janeudhari’ Rahul Gandhi’s temple-hopping spree?) its secularism lies in a rather tattered condition.

Realpolitik triumphed

Two, there were some serious existential issues facing the Congress. If it had not acquiesced to this alliance, there would have been a very real possibility of its MLAs breaking ranks and joining hands with the NCP or even the Shiv Sena, leaving the Congress more marginalised in Maharashtra. So, in the end, realpolitik triumphed, and keeping the BJP out of power seemed a more important prerogative.

But in an ‘ideologically-agnostic’ political culture that prevails in the country today, these questions may seem irrelevant.

To inject a dose of the comic into this tragicomedy situation, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor came out with a new word, of German origins — zugzwang (pronounced tsuktswang). In Tharoor’s words: “A situation in chess and other games where a player is compelled to move, forcing him into a weaker position. A player is said to be ‘in zugzwang’ when any possible move will worsen their position. In game theory, changes a win to loss.”

That pretty much sums up the Maharashtra imbroglio.