The odds were long, but the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress did have a clear opening, although it was only a brief one, thanks to the games being played by New Delhi and its chief instrument, Maharashtra governor B.S. Koshiyari, who is a former BJP chief minister of Uttarakhand.
The imposition of President’s Rule in Maharashtra makes it evident that what the BJP recently lost on the swings in the post-Assembly election scene, when it failed to cobble together the numbers with its pre-poll ally Shiv Sena, it has made up on the roundabout.
This is thanks to the deeply inept play by the Congress, which was disrespectful of the opportunity it was presented with, and possibly motivated play by the NCP leadership whose real moves appear to have been thoroughly camouflaged because they were never meant to discomfit the BJP, whatever the outer optics.
The BJP won’t have a chief minister. But for the next six months it is likely to have an overlord in Union home minister Amit Shah. In conditions of Central rule under Article 356 of the Constitution, the Union home minister calls all the shots. The governor is the carrier of the Centre’s messages.
The BJP couldn’t play the defection game in the first instance, as it has done with such dexterity in practically every state. This was because the defectors from other parties it gave tickets to for the state polls mainly lost. The would-be defectors in the post-poll situation were thus wary.
That wariness is now likely to melt away. Those from the Shiv Sena, NCP or Congress ranks looking for the loaves and fishes of office are apt to become easy prey. Not just the Congress and the NCP, but also the Shiv Sena, the supposedly ideological party, had now better watch out. Reining in their flock may not be easy.
The Shiv Sena has a valid grievance. The governor gave the BJP a long window of time — about a fortnight since the declaration of results — to pull itself together and manage the numbers. Even when it became clear that the MLAs from other parties weren’t stepping forward to be counted, Mr Koshiyari gave the BJP 48 hours to stake its claim.
But the Shiv Sena was given only 24 hours, with its appeal for an extension being peremptorily dismissed.
If the governor genuinely desired that elected members of the Assembly take charge as the government, he would have permitted every next-best option a decent shot at it. He did not. This was in sharp contrast, for instance, with the way former J&K governor Girish “Gary” Saxena had conducted himself in the post-1996 state election situation, although the late Mr Saxena had been a former RAW chief and not a politician. A seasoned politician like Mr Koshiyari could have displayed at least the same degree of fidelity — and sensitivity — to the working out of the democratic process.
The Shiv Sena has moved the Supreme Court to gain a reprieve. Its plea is that it received too little time to produce the numbers. Given the track record of the present Supreme Court in a succession of matters of a political nature, which has gone with the interests of the Centre and the ruling party, while appearing to parse legal arguments and evidence, the Sena may be nursing a forlorn hope.
As for the Congress, its leadership found itself caught up in knots — essentially fending off imaginary charges of helping a chauvinist right-wing party to form the government — essentially praying to the false god of imagined ideology.
Quite frankly, it failed to even raise the question — what was the primary contradiction before it? To keep the BJP away from power since the saffron party had been unable to win at the hustings, or to fall into the trap of the ayatollahs who falsely — and foolishly — invoke ideology to prevent this happening?
It was overlooked, for instance, that a top leader of the party, then Congress presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee, had the party’s sanction to visit “Matoshree” in Mumbai to solicit the vote of the Shiv Sena for the presidential election.
It is typical that the Congress leadership seldom speaks up when it really matters, although in anodyne fashion it routinely inveighs against communalism and the high-handedness of the government. And it did not speak at the height of the political drama — and crisis — in Maharashtra.
Because it operated through its lightweight spokesman, and several others who are hardly leaders except notionally, no one outside the hollowed-out Congress Working Committee — which has seen far better days in terms of the stature of its members — knew what the so-called “high command” thought. Who knows, maybe it had no thoughts. And if it did have any thoughts, it lacked the courage of conviction to speak it out in public.
As for the NCP, too much is made of the supposed magic of its most significant leaders. The “plain tales from the Raj” are suggestive of the fact that these leaders can have their tails squeezed.
So, they played it real slow, hoping that the blame would eventually fall on the Congress’ indecisiveness, which is everyone’s handy whipping boy, and this time around it would be with reason.
Maratha supremo Sharad Pawar, when he was in the Congress, shared one thing with his rival, the late Arjun Singh.
They were both adept at working at a long “alaap” — the overture that precedes a maestro’s musical performance — but short on political courage. This failing had let Arjun Singh down in the aftermath of the Ayodhya demolition in December 1992 when he travelled by train from New Delhi to Lucknow, and then returned from the station itself instead of marching on to Ayodhya. If he had done that, then the job of Prime Minister, displacing P.V. Narasimha Rao, would have been his for the asking.
After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, Mr Pawar had given Narasimha Rao a run for his money. He had campaigned hard for himself (when his tail was not being squeezed).
But he was handily beaten by Rao’s ragtag band. Mr Pawar had failed to invite trust and he did not have the courage to unfurl his right-of-centre agenda to Congress MPs who would have been voters in the prime ministerial stakes....