Saturday’s development is especially hard on the Shiv Sena. It had sacrificed everything to have its candidate in the Chief Minister’s post
What does a loser say after he is outfoxed? One, that the rival used deceit to win. And two, he would soon bounce back. The Shiv Sena has stuck to this rusted explanation. Less than twenty-four hours after it appeared that its supremo would become Maharashtra’s Chief Minister, the Shiv Sena found the rug pulled from under its feet by a faction of one of its potential partners, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
It was a problematic situation. The Sena could not blame NCP chief Sharad Pawar because Pawar presented himself as the betrayed victim. So it directed its fire at the leader of the breakaway faction, Ajit Pawar, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for having facilitated the split. The Sena, to keep the morale of its MLAs, stated that the government would fail in the floor test to be held soon.
The Congress placed its trust in Sharad Pawar, one of the country’s shrewdest political manipulators, to be guiding light. As it turned out, Pawar could not even keep his flock together.
But why did this situation arise? The blame lies at the doorsteps of those who had joined hands to keep the BJP away. It has been a month since the results of the Assembly elections were out, and within days the Shiv Sena had opened channels of communication with the NCP. Soon after, it also contacted Congress. Over the last nearly two weeks, a Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance for all partial purposes had been forged. All that the parties needed was to approach the Governor with the numbers and stake claim to form the government.
And yet they prevaricated on the pretext of finalising the finer points of the alliance. This was a mistake. There was unanimity over a Shiv Sena candidate as Chief Minister, and once Uddhav Thackeray’s name was proposed and accepted by all, they should have rushed to the Governor and stake claim. The details of the coalition could have been worked out in the course of time.
The Sena-Congress-NCP leaders should have realised that delays in such circumstances, when the political situation is fluid, generally lead to unrest in the rank and file of their respective parties and the prospect of rebellion is real. But they were intoxicated by a dose of over-confidence and paid the price.
This brings us to the other question: Who was responsible for the dithering? Congress cannot escape the blame. While the NCP appeared ready and willing to move fast, the Congress’s high command took its time. Instead of seizing the moment, it immersed itself in one meeting after the other, both in Mumbai and in New Delhi. True, it had a difficult choice to make since it was caught between a rock and a hard place. But it was a lack of clarity on its part which sunk the coalition’s chances.
The Congress placed its trust in Sharad Pawar, one of the country’s shrewdest political manipulators, to be guiding light. As it turned out, Pawar could not even keep his flock together. But he should not be complaining about the betrayal by his nephew. Back in July 1978, Pawar had done something similar when he was in the Congress. He had split the Congress in the State and left Chief Minister Vasantdada Patil high and dry. In the process, he became Maharashtra’s youngest Chief Minister at the age of 38. Pawar returned to the Congress a decade later, and in 1999 he split the Congress yet again, this time nationally, to form the NCP. He continued with his love-hate relationship with the Congress and later joined the Congress-led UPA, in whose government he became a Cabinet Minister.
Saturday’s development is especially hard on the Shiv Sena. It had sacrificed everything to have its candidate in the Chief Minister’s post. It had crawled before the NCP and the Congress, agreed to their conditions, diluted its Hindutva ideology, and was virtually prepared to head a government remote-controlled by the NCP and the Congress. In the end, even after having surrendered its dignity, it did not get power.
Of course, this is not the end of the story. We have to see whether the Ajit Pawar faction remains intact. If it collapses, then the Devendra Fadnavis government could be in trouble. On the other hand, there is no telling if the Shiv Sena can hold on to its MLAs. It’s an open war out there in Maharashtra.
Finally, it would be better if leaders stop raising the issue of ethics and ideology. Every party without exception has sacrificed both at the altar of power. The real issue at hand is simply one of outwitting the other. If the BJP-Ajit Pawar alliance can be questioned, so can the Shiv Sena’s with the Congress and the NCP.
If politics is the art of the possible, then the BJP has for the moment won. Tomorrow, who knows!
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.