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Maharashtra: A plassey redux

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An individual with his head and heart in right place. sharing a bunch of honest yet unpopular opinions.

The political acrobatics going on in Maharashtra has caught attention of one and all. Finally, when the new government was about to prove its majority, the news of renewed Congress demand for Deputy CM post took me back to the events that occurred red in the subcontinent in late 18th century.

In 1747, Marathas led by Raghoji I Bhonsle raided and plundered territories of Aliwardi Khan. During invasion of Odisha, Mir Jafar, who was the subedar, completely withdrew all the forces. Only when Aliwardi Khan supported by Mughal Army led the charge, the Maratha forces were resisted and defeated in the Battle of Burdwan. Aliwardi Khan was enraged by the actions of Mir Jafar. He humiliated and dismissed Jafar from the position of Subedar.

Later on, Jafar pretended his loyalty to Aliwardi Khan’s successor Siraj ud-Daulah and rose to become commander of Bengali forces. Ultimately, during the Battle of Plassey, he betrayed Siraj and supported the British, resulting in defeat of Siraj. Mir jafar went on to become Nawab of Bengal. But as karma would have it, Jafar was removed from the throne by the same Britishers and was replaced by his Son-in-Law Mir Qasim.

Fast forward to present day Maharashtra and we find a Battle of Plassey redux. During 2014 Vidhan Sabha elections, Shiv Sena decided to go alone and heaped choicest of adjectives for BJP top leadership and its local leaders. After results were Declard, despite NCP’s readiness to give outside support, BJP went for its oldest ally. While being in alliance, Shiv sena continued to criticise BJP and heaped praises for Congress leadership and rahul Gandhi. On major issues like Rafale, Demonetisation and GST, it sided with the opposition. Even during 20 July 2018 No Confidence Motion, Sena’s support to BJP came only at the last moment, after the reported call by BJP leaders to Uddhav Thackeray.

The BJP leadership committed the same mistake during 2019 Vidhan Sabha election, as committed by Siraj Ud Daulah. They went with Shiv Sena and gave up even those seats that BJP had won in the 2014, at the cost of angering its local leaders and cadres. Shiv Sena leaders too asked for votes in the name of BJP and Narendra modi, as claimed by Amit Shah.

Outcome of the elections present testimony to the BJP’s harakiri. BJP achieved a strike rate of 70% as opposed to Shiv Sena’s 45%. Despite contesting 96 fewer seats compared to 2014, there is marginal drop of 1.5% in Vote share of BJP. All these facts suggest that if BJP had contested all alone, It would have been much closer to the magic mark of 145 seats. Furthermore, it could also have easily accommodated its own disgruntled leaders and workers.

As Mir Jafar had aligned with Robert Clive and British, Shiv Sena took a political somersault and went with Congress and NCP. The bonhomie and cooperation was palpable as Shiv Sena workers guarded the NCP legislators and even brought some of them back from the airport.

Milind Narvekar and Eknath Sinde (Shiv Sena) with Sanjay Bansod (NCP) in the middle.

Shiv Sena’s actions can be termed as an ideological somersault only by those who are unaware of its origin and history. Sena itself was propped up by Congress to end the Trade unionism of Left (Fortunately it did not end like Bhindranwale fiasco). Moreover, till late 1980s, Hindutva was not on Shiv Sena’s agenda. Sensing the appeal for Hindutva, Sena supported it in 1987 Mumbai by-election, where victory of Ramesh Prabhu catapulted it from a regional party to a pro-Hindutva party with a greater appeal. The agenda also brought it closer to Gujarati and North Indian voters, expanding sena’s vote base.

After demise of Bala Saheb and aggressive politics of Modi-Shah, Uddhav Thackeray found the space for Shiv Sena shrinking. Furthermore, steps like criminalising Triple Talaq and nullification of article 370 saw the appropriation of Hindutva by the BJP like never before. The younger generation of Thackerays is also interested in a moderate image, which is more acceptable in elite circles. Thus, the realignment is a fait accompli.

The Maharashtra Impasse

The ongoing impasse among the three parties is nothing but a trailer of days to come. With Pawar as the power centre and mediator with Congress, Uddhav will have very little space for manoeuvre. This again gives a deja vu of Mir Jafar. Since all three parties have their vested interests, mature local leadership and a common goal of keeping BJP out; the government might survive but governance will severely suffer. This will giving BJP the opportunity to reenergise itself and take its message to the people with a greater clarity.

BJP has already burnt its fingers in hasty oath taking ceremony. But it does not have time to sit back and relax. It can not get into wait and watch mode. Such an attitude will be detrimental not only for its own interest but also for the people of Mumbai and Maharashtra as a whole.

There are some ongoing big ticket investment projects in Maharashtra. Metro Car shed has been put on hold. Same fate awaits Bullet Train project, Oil refinery and others. All of this will hamper investors’ confidence in India and raise questions over sanctity of contracts signed by the states. After Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra can not send the same signal. Moreover, in a slowing economy where investments are drying up, such actions will make economic revival even more challenging.

So the BJP needs to create situations that give rise of dissatisfaction among coalition partners leading to defections. As in karnataka, there is a need to dethrone the government, while ensuring that members do not lose their seats. Thus the new government formed will be able to focus on governance rather than winning seats of disqualified candidates.

BJP needs to get its future strategy for a major state like Maharashtra.Since politics makes strange bedfellows, asking BJP to shun any future alignment with Shiv Sena will be short sighted. It needs to be cold & calculative and must not get swayed by romanticism of ideology or past bonhomie while taking decision with respect to Sena. BJP is strong enough in Maharashtra to contest and win elections on its own.Incase it misses the majority mark, independents will always be there. A stronger rather than a weaker BJP will be in a better position to deal with Sena. Moreover, feelers should always be sent to NCP so that other options remain open.

There is a lesson for Devendra Fadnavis too. He is an able and honest administrator who has now established himself in Maharashtra as well as at the national level. But he should not try to alienate strong local leaders. The present time can be used to smoothen the ruffled feathers. In an arena where there are leaders like Sharad Pawar, Prithvi Raj Chavan and Prafull Patel, Fadnavis can not strengthen himself by weakening his own party-men. Modi could do so in Gujarat because the opposition was weak. But in Maharashtra, the opposition is strong and has a grass root hold. Thus he should desist form any such misadventure in future.

Maharashtra elections and its aftereffects can be a huge learning curve for the BJP (Decision to go alone in Jharkhand can be seen as one). It must assess comparative strength of its allies, their commitment, available options and tread accordingly. All these factors will decide the extent of saffron surge at the state level.

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An individual with his head and heart in right place. sharing a bunch of honest yet unpopular opinions.
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