Sunil Gatade | Unlike Gujarat, Modi isn’t a ‘Sardar’ in Maharashtra

As BJP courts Raj Thackeray, challenges emerge in Maharashtra's political landscape, signaling a shift in dynamics ahead of the Lok Sabha polls

The roping in of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray by the BJP in Maharashtra is a clear signal that Brand Modi has further diminished ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and that the strategy of Union home minister Amit Shah is floundering in the land of Chhatrapati Shivaji. No one still knows what the role of Raj might be in the BJP’s scheme of things in the state.

It also shows that the Modi-Shah duo will need to have strength and stamina when confronted with pugnacious regional leaders like Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar, who have the will and the determination to fight long haul despite huge setbacks.

The “scorched earth” policy followed by Modi-Shah in the premier state by engineering splits in both the Shiv Sena and the NCP was believed to be an elixir for the BJP that would make the Opposition not only inactive but dead.

The reverse has happened. Like in the 17th century after the death of Shivaji and the capture and killing of his son Sambhaji by deceit, the Mughals thought the Deccan had fallen. However, the resistance put up by the Sardars of Shivaji, like Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav, forced Aurangzeb to come to the South. The rest is history.

As the BJP is making a determined push for deep inroads in Marathas, mark the pleas and propaganda of Uddhav and Pawar. “Maharashtra has never bowed before the rulers of Delhi.” The Congress has moved silently in Kolhapur with their aid and advice and made Shahu Maharaj, one of the direct descendants of the great Maratha warrior, its candidate. Local BJP leaders perceive it as the first Opposition victory even before the general election.

Maharashtra’s topography, terrain and temperament are different. The marginalisation of senior leaders like Nitin Gadkari by the Modi-Shah duo is not just an internal affair of the BJP. It is bound to have equal and opposite reactions in boosting the Opposition in Vidarbha, the home turf of Mr Gadkari as well as deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Some may not know that Uddhav Thackeray is an ardent admirer of Mamata Banerjee, who had been instrumental in ousting the entrenched Left Front from power in West Bengal some 15 years back. He knows that there is no shortcut to success and the more one shows one’s street fighting skills, the more one shines.

Despite the denials from the BJP high command, the consistent talk by some of its supporters and sympathisers on changing the Constitution is also likely to have an impact on the fortunes of the BJP and its allies. Dr B.R. Ambedkar is a great son of Maharashtra and any talk of tampering with the Constitution is tantamount to sacrilege for his immense army of followers.

In 2004, one of the factors that went against the Atal Behari Vajpayee government and the ruling BJP was the setting up of the Constitution Review Committee headed by former Chief Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah. It was exploited to the hilt by the Congress as well as Sharad Pawar as an attack on the architect of the Indian Constitution.

Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi is politically a slippery customer in these Lok Sabha polls for the Opposition. Still, he is insistent that what the BJP and RSS are up to is the dismantling and destruction of the Constitution to bring in an East India Company of a different kind where corporates would call the shots.

Undoubtedly, it is a fact that Mr Modi was instrumental in the BJP leapfrogging from the Number 4 spot to Number 1 in Maharashtra ten years back when he brought the saffron party to the centre-stage of national politics virtually singlehandedly. By splitting the Shiv Sena and the NCP, he has made it a six-cornered race from four-cornered one.

But the tragedy is that the BJP stock has been coming down gradually and it has failed to generate the chemistry that can make it the dominant party in the state, a position held by the Congress some three decades back. After securing 122 seats in the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly in 2014, it came down to 105 in 2019 though it has maintained the dominant position in the Lok Sabha along with the allies.

One must realise that the move to rope in of Raj has gained momentum after the Opposition’s mega show at Shivaji Park in Mumbai where the INDIA bloc showed that it is more than alive and kicking and also that Maharashtra could offer stiff resistance to the BJP.

The Modi-Shah duo is not getting a hang of the political situation in the state, which has 48 Lok Sabha seats, next only to the most crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, which has 80. So, they are trying various permutations and combinations to come up with the winner.

The issue is that the BJP wants to benefit from its allies, but does not want to give anything back in return. Several leaders of the allies have been “purified” by virtually exonerating them from charges of financial irregularities by bringing them to the ruling side -- that is the unspoken argument of the BJP. Therefore, it feels that friendly parties should stay content with what they get and should not show unhappiness. This has created bad blood among the allies.

As a political commentator put it aptly, the allies of the BJP might have got a sizable share of power through the rebellion in their respective parties, but they are finding it difficult to sustain this at the negotiating table. The Big Brother is chewing the juice out of them.

Right or wrong, the BJP’s rise in Gujarat was by painting the Congress as pro-Muslim, consistently and effectively for more than a quarter of a century. Though he projects himself as the sole representative of seven crore Gujaratis, Mr Modi has mainly been a “chowkidar” of the majority community.

The ethos of Maharashtra is different from that of Gujarat and the work of social reformers like Jyotiba Phule, Shahu Maharaj and Dr Ambedkar and the path set by Shivaji is making the BJP wonder how to dominate it. It is wooing the Marathas in a big way while not upsetting its OBC vote bank. It is a tightrope walk and only a perfect balance can make it click. It looks like a tall order at the moment.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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