After its thumping victory in the Lok Sabha polls in May, the BJP ran a high-octane campaign for the Assembly elections in Maharashtra in October, woven around the motif of Kashmir - an all-India theme, rather than one pertinent to the state — in order to underline its India-wide Hindu credentials. The party’s return to power under chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was widely presumed to be a shoo-in. Instead, the state was brought under President's Rule on Tuesday.
The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance fell apart on the leadership question. Although the “Mahayuti” had a majority, it found itself unable to form a government, robbing the BJP of its aura of invincibility due to the Narendra Modi tag.
The saffron party found itself disgraced as it won way fewer seats than expected.
Other than the urban Mumbai-Thane belt, the party lost heavily, especially in the agricultural hinterland. Its communal, so-called “nationalist” pitch was of little avail. The BJP did emerge as the single largest party but its numbers were much below the halfway mark. Its tally was less than in the last Assembly.
The Shiv Sena, the BJP’s ally of 30 years and historically its first regional ally, split away sensing that the national party’s all-India agenda had come a cropper in the state polls. As a regional Maratha chauvinist Hindutva-oriented party, it has long harboured the grouse of being pushed to being a minor ally under the BJP’s current leadership.
When a shocked BJP even declined to stake claim to forming the next government, the Sena got in touch with the NCP and the Congress, which were on the other side of the ideological divide. It met their condition of breaking ties with the BJP and asked its lone Union minister to resign. The governor, an old RSS hand, gave the party a bare 24 hours to produce a list of MLAs supporting it, turning down its plea for two more days. Since the Sena was now dealing with ideological rivals it was a reasonable assumption that extra time will be needed to stitch things up. The governor’s refusal has become controversial. The Sena has gone to the Supreme Court alleging lack of impartiality by the governor. It is evident the BJP is back in the game since it developed a reputation for breaking rival parties and inducing defections. Under President’s Rule, the scope for such an exercise — which in other states went under the name of “Operation Lotus” — is ample. Sena, NCP and Congress MLAs are deemed vulnerable. The NCP and Congress haven’t proved equal to the task of grasping an entirely new political situation in Maharashtra, and were tardy in backing a Sena bid for government-making even when this meant dethroning the BJP in a major state. The NCP appeared to quibble over its share in power, and the Congress suffered from inadequate leadership. The game opens up now, with the BJP’s Operation Lotus exertions and the Sena-NCP-Congress sorting out fresh arrangements, should the governor afford them a second chance.