There should not have been any hiccups in the formation of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena Maha Yuti coalition government after the Maharashtra Assembly election results. The pre-poll alliance of the BJP-Shiv Sena with its strength of 161 in the 288-member Assembly should have formed its third, and second successive, government without much ado. The demand of the Shiv Sena that the chief minister’s post should be rotated has come as a rude reminder that political games are quite unpredictable. The moot point in the unexpected crisis in post-poll Maharashtra is not the imposition of President’s Rule, apparently on the recommendation of governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, but the break between the two right-wing parties.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s demand for a share in the chief ministerial term is, on the face of it, unreasonable. The Sena does not have the numbers to back the demand. Mr Thackeray says that there was a pre-poll agreement on the issue, and the BJP’s weak denial makes it curiouser. It can only be speculated that the BJP might have nodded in passing about the arrangement because the party, despite the hyperbolic swagger of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister-cum-party president Amit Shah and their reliance on the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir as the poll talisman, there must have been apprehensions that the party may not cross the winning line on its own. Of course, these closed-door parleys and arrangements can’t be verified because they are not backed by a written agreement. They cannot be. Neither side can produce documentary evidence to prove that the other side is lying.
There is also a clear indication that the BJP was gradually marginalising the Shiv Sena in state politics. The strike rate of the victories of the BJP under the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duumvirate has led the party to treat its allies from the perspective of a patron rather than that of a partner. The BJP has very nearly emerged as the single dominant party of Indian politics in the past five-and-a-half years, and the space of the allies has been shrinking, whether it be of the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, the Janata Dal (United) under Nitish Kumar in Bihar, and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. The irrational demand of Mr Thackeray for the Shiv Sena’s turn in the chief minister’s post arises from this anxiety to retain its position in the political space. Somewhere and somehow the BJP under Mr Modi and Mr Shah have failed to honour what has come to be known as “coalition dharma”.
The Sena and the BJP may get back together sometime or the other because the two have much in common in terms of the majoritarian politics of Hindutva, though the friction between the Maratha-led Sena and the Brahmin-led BJP in Maharashtra needs to be smoothened. The BJP has for some years been deftly managing caste equations by falling back on the numerically smaller caste groups in order to fight dominant castes in politics. The question is whether the BJP can outflank the dominance of Jats in Haryana and Rajasthan, the Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and the Marathas in Maharashtra.
Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desperate attempts to appropriate Dr B.R. Ambedkar, dalits have not been completely incorporated in the wider Hindutva core constituency. The party wants to include Muslims too, but it knows that in doing so it will alienate its Hindutva base. The BJP is then faced with the vexatious task of balancing the caste equations. BJP veteran Lal Krishna Advani’s ambition to unite Hindu society under the Hindutva banner to counter Mandal politics remains a distant dream. The Hindu majority in the country is not a monolithic block, and the BJP cannot hope to ride on the Hindutva plank for too long.
The political turbulence in Maharashtra reflects the natural faultlines in the Indian polity. The Shiv Sena will not ever become a dominant player in the state despite it championing the interests of “Marathi manoos” because the party does not have a presence in many other parts of the state, and it is incapable of articulating the aspirations of regions like Vidarbha and Marathwada, though it has gained a foothold of sorts in Marathwada. The Shiv Sena, like the BJP, is not geared to absorb dalits and Muslims, who form a distinct element in the state’s polity.
The two right-wing parties then must review their ideological and political positions if they want to become major players. It is perhaps inevitable that the BJP and Shiv Sena have to learn the Congress’ trick of playing the card of “inclusive politics”, the much-abused political cliché. In the next election, whenever that happens, the BJP and the Shiv Sena must fight on their own and test their respective voter bases.
In the shorter term, democratic norms would have required that the BJP, which is the single largest party with 105 members in the Assembly, should have formed the government and faced the pinpricks of a numerically larger Opposition, where it would have had to ensure a consensus on administrative and policy measures. That would require greater political sophistication on the part of all political parties, which they sadly lack. In the United States Congress (comprising the House of Representatives and the Senate), members from each party are found to vote across the aisle whether any one of the two parties have a majority or not.
Meanwhile, it should not cause much consternation that there is a delay in the formation of government. All that the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress have to ensure is that they do not fall apart soon after they come together. Something similar had happened in Karnataka in May 2018. The BJP, the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) there have landed themselves in a mess by filching members from other parties to muster the numbers, as can be seen from the Supreme Court upholding the disqualification of the defectors on Wednesday. There is much that Maharashtra can learn from Karnataka’s political shenanigans....