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Maharashtra politics: New friends; new foes!

Thursday, November 09, 2017
By Bharatkumar Raut

Even as the Maharashtra Government under the leadership of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis completed three years with a great fanfare and enthusiasm, the administration and the political life in the state is palpably unstable on many counts. Chinese Mao-Tse-Tung believed that the system needs to be stirred at regular intervals. He called it a 'continous cultural revolution'. He said, the system needs to be stirred and realigned at regular intervals. Has time come in India and particularly in Maharashtra also where political forces need to be realigned? If so, the time starts now. Thus, by 2019 elections, Maharashtra would find new alliances of parties to face people's fresh mandate.  

There was a huge newspaper and media campaign to celebrate Fadnavis's 'success' on the occasion of his completion of three years in office. He gave series of interviews to TV channels with several newspaper articles also written about him. He seems to be confident of not only completing the full term but winning the next elections in 2019 with a better margin. He also expressed confidence that his Government was 'stable' and faced no challenge from any other party or groups. Going by the developments that meet the eye, there are valid reasons to believe that Fadnavis is sitting pretty in his saddle and has no threat from within or outside at least till 2019. However, what we see is many times just a tip of the iceberg. Only a small portion of an iceberg (about ten per cent) floats on the water, while the rest huge portion of 90 per cent remains hidden under the water. If a captain of a ship ignores or miscalculates the size and shape of the 'hidden iceberg', there is a threat of the ship colliding with the hidden portion of the iceberg.
Deviation from the rule-book
When everything seems to be going fine, Fadnavis and his close confidants need to take cognisance of  stray developments that are happening around. Recently, Shiv Sena Party Chief Uddhav Thackeray, along with his son Aditya called on the West Bengal Chief Minister and supremo of the Trinamool Congress Mamta Banerjee in a five-star hotel in Mumbai. It was supposed to be 'courtesy call'. Those who know the Thackerays also know that their practice is to make the guest call at he Matoshri Bungalow. Breaking the practice, the Thackerays went to the hotel to meet Mamta Didi. This is a serious deviation from Thackerays' age-old rule book. It would be worth considering the angle that Mamta Didi has been toying with the idea of forging a non-BJP alliance at the national level to take on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 elections. A similar experiment was done successfully against the then all powerful Congress Government of late Indira Gandhi in 1977, when five political majors had closed ranks to put up a formidable challenge to Indira Gandhi under the banner of the Janata Party. They had succeeded in the game, thanks to the leadership of late Jay Prakash Narayan and the backdrop of Emergency atrocities. Similar experiments were executed at the national and various regional levels since then.

Regional and weak political forces tend to come closer to take on  strong rulers and also to retain their own existence. Now the situation at the national level is such that the BJP is getting stronger and stronger and if any other party including the chief opposition Congress has to retain their clout, they need to come together and forge a strong alliance. Congress President Sonia Gandhi had started to work in this direction when India was electing its new President. However, the effort remained incomplete as JD (U) Chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar joined the ranks of the BJP and gave a royal ditch to the Congress. The other reason is the ill-health of Sonia ji. It looks like Mamta Didi has now decided to lead the effort and take on the BJP. She is travelling all over to muster support of other non-BJP forces. Does this mean that it would make a palpable impact on Maharashtra polity? The answer is yes and no.

All huge developments at the national level naturally have their impact on Maharashtra. But in this case, the impact would be far less as those whom Mamta Didi is trying to approach, have very little sway over Maharashtra. Moreover, the Congress lacks strong leadership in the state and it is very difficult to gauge Sharad Pawar's next move. However, it would be interesting to examine recent developments and try to come closer to any conclusion.

The Shiv Sena always strived on its opposition to the Congress and particularly to the Gandhi family. But recently, Sena's top leader Sanjay Raut went on record to empathetically say that Congress's Vice President Rahul Gandhi is no more a 'Pappu' and has the ability to lead the nation. This is a diagonally opposite view of the Sena. Was it just an off-the-cuff comment? Or was there something more? Is Shiv Sena in a mood to develop a bridge to reach out to the Opposition Front? And if it works in that direction, will the Congress be in a position and mood to welcome the Sena in their Alliance? What would be their justification in doing so?

Taking the fight to the streets
Will the Sena remain in the government till 2019 or will it desert the BJP and get out of the Fadnavis Government to take the fight to the streets? In that case, are we in Maharashtra heading for a major realignment of forces? In case, the Sena pulls itself out to the ruling alliance, obviously, the Government would be reduced to minority, falling short of about two dozen votes to prove a clear majority. In that case, Fadnavis is left with four options; to run a minority government for the rest of the term; to take help of the NCP; to manage the rift within the Sena and net a few MLAs or to dissolve the Assembly and face fresh mandate. Going by Fadnavis's mind-set, it looks like he would seek Pawar's help.

His recent praises for Pawar is the pointer. In that case, the Government would sail smooth for the rest 24 months. However, Fadnavis takes a beating as going with 'corrupt' set of politicians. Failing this option, Fadnavis can engineer a coup within the Sena and possibly the NCP and make at least 25 MLAs resign, thus reducing the strength of the Assembly to 245. This will enable the BJP to prove its majority in the truncated House.

To sum up, one can only say, let's keep our fingers crossed and only hope that nothing that could hamper Maharashtra's progress and repute happen in this ugly political game.

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