Battle Royale in Maharashtra
- 4-corner contest getting fiercer by the day.
- BJP has a clear edge.
- All the major parties rue political divorce.
- Polling on 15 October
Mumbai, October 4: After launching ‘Clean India Campaign’, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, on Gandhi Jayanti, Prime Minister Modi would be focusing his attention on election campaign in Maharashtra. Things have become more difficult in Maharashtra with adamant attitude adopted by the ambitious Senapathi of Shiv Sena who was bent on forcing his way towards the chair of chief minister and consequent snapping of 25-year old ties between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena(SS). In comparison, Haryana would be easier to win for the BJP than Maharashtra.
Two reasons can be attributed to the bizarre developments before Assembly elections in Maharashtra. One, ambition which is rather unrealistic. Two, fatigue of friendship for a long time. The ambition to become a chief minister is justified and it cannot be faulted. Every politician worth his name would like to serve his state as CM or his country as PM. But the ambition should not be unrealistic and unreasonable. The stipulation by the SS for continuation of alliance with the BJP, a national party, was that the post of the CM has to be reserved to Sena (read Uddhav Thackeray) and as many as 150 out of 288 Assembly seats have to be left for it to contest. After the political tsunami created by Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate in May general elections, it is difficult to even imagine that the BJP would forfeit its predominant position in Maharashtra and allow a junior partner, a regional outfit, to dominate the scene in a very important state. There is no reason to justify the demand of the Sena leadership particularly after the demise of Balasaheb Thacheray and parting of ways by his son Uddhav Thacheray and Uddhav’s cousin Raj Thackeray. If anything, the SS has got weakened because of the bad blood between the cousins and therefore the demand of SS appears untenable.
Sonia, Pawar never met
The same can be said about the ambition entertained by Ajit Pawar, the nephew of the Maratha strongman Shara Pawar, chief of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Ajit Pawar has been restive as Deputy Chief Minister of Mahatashtra in the coalition government. He is impatient to occupy the chair and preside over the destiny of his state. The NCP has all along been a junior partner. It had post-poll alliance with the Congress in 1999 and pre-poll tie-up in 2004 and 2009 elections. Pawars who are leading an essentially a regional party are taking advantage of the decline in the fortunes of the national party. The performance of the Congress party in the general elections in Maharashtra was, no doubt, miserable. But then, the performance of NCP was no great. There have been image problems for successive chief ministers in Maharashtra. But the present occupant, Prithviraj Chavan, has relatively cleaner personal reputation. His predecessor was involved in scams. There were allegations against Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar as well. If corruption charges are not an issue, the remaining factors are the same as in 2009 elections. Prithviraj Chavan was very clear from the beginning of the seat-sharing negotiations that NCP leadership wants to walkout of the alliance and strike a deal with the BJP. He said so in so many words on more than one occasion. There used to be customary consultation between Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar to put the final seal on the seat-sharing deal. This such a meeting between the two top leaders was not necessary since the signals from the Congress leaders in Maharashtra did not encourage Sonia to hold talks with Pawar. Nether Pawar was ready for such an eventuality.
Fatigue of friendship
The fatigue of long association also can be attributed to the straining of relations between the partners in the alliances. As long as the partnership continues, both the parties will be losing ground in almost half of the constituencies. For instance, the constituencies in which the Congress contested in 2004 and 2009 would be roughly the same. It means, the NCP has to forget about developing its base in those constituencies. Win or lose, the constituency allocated to one partner would remain with the same partner. Same thing holds good for Shiv Sena and BJP alliance. There were at least 60 constituencies in which Shiv Sena had fared very poorly in 2009 elections and the BJP was advocating that the Sena leadership should have a relook at those constituencies and allot some of them the BJP. But the SS leadership is not prepared to consider the suggestion. It wants all the old constituencies and some more. Any desire on the part of the regional party to rule the state on its own would be impossible to fulfill since it would be contesting for less than half seats. Ditto for the Congress. Whatever the pattern followed in this election would become a precedent for the next elections. Both the Congress and NCP which have ruled the state for 15 solid years are acutely aware that they have to concede the ground to the BJP-Shiv Sena this time. When the chances of success and forming the fourth consecutive government are slim, why fight for the seats and insist on rotation of the post of chief minister? The present projection is not for this election but for the future scenario in 2019. BJP and Shiv Sena, among them would form the government in all probability. Then, the ruling alliance (BJP-SS) would have incumbency factor to reckon with in 2019 elections in which the Congress and the NCP would have a clear chance of posting a win. In that event, the major partner would have the chair. That was the reason why the NCP has been insisting on the principle of rotation for the post of chief minister. And that is precisely the reason why the Congress is against forfeiting the status of senior partner and natural claim to the post of CM.
Sense of win or loss dictates response
While the sense of certain defeat was the reason for breaking up of the Congress-NCP alliance, the sense of sure win was at the back of the split in the BJP-SS alliance. If the NCP was keen on taking advantage of the rout suffered by the Congress in general elections, the Shiv Sena was dilating on the limitations of the BJP and the waning of the Modi wave pointing out at the dismal performance of the BJP in the by-elections (held after the general elections) in UP, Bihar and Rajasthan. BJP had lost more than fifty percent of the seats it held in the by-polls. But Amit Shah, the BJP president is, unlike Rajnath Singh, a robust political animal who is very good at poll game. He allowed a long rope for the young leaders of Sena and said ‘check’ at an unexpected time catching SS leadership unaware. Uddhav Thackeray was on record saying that he never thought that the alliance would break up. He blamed Sharad Pawar for assuring support to the Saffron party in case of a split in BJP-SS alliance. In fact, all the four major parties in question have been trying to explain the reasons for the divorce blaming the other partner for the fiasco. BJP, however, was very careful in avoiding harsh language to explain the longest enduring alliance in the history of democratic India. It is conscious of the post-election postulations and opportunities as well challenges where it might seek the help of either Shiv Sena or the NCP to form the next government. It would prefer the known devil, SS, rather than an unknown and unpredictable leader like Sharad Pawar who has the reputation of being a very clever and consummate politician.
Doors open for post-poll alliances
NCP also does not wish to close its door on the Congress for ever. It is not willing to distance itself from the secular sections in the society. Shara Pawar has repeatedly said that he is not in any remote alliance with the BJP and his party is opposed to the philosophy and programmes of the saffron party. However, the NCP chief was very particular about blaming Chief Minister (who resigned) Prithviraj Chavan for the breaking up of the alliance. He told the media a number of times that Chavan’s antipathy towards his party and himself was the main reason for the failure of talk on seat sharing. As the adage goes, the latest enemy is the greatest enemy. NCP is going all out to ensure the defeat of Prithviraj by withdrawing its candidate in Karad South constituency and supporting a veteran Congress leader who represented the constituency for many terms earlier and is loathe abandoning it. Prithviraj, on his part, has blamed the “gigantic ambition entertained by Ajit Pawar” for the fall of the alliance. Ajit Pawar has been making wild allegations against his former chief minister. He said the files which were on the shelves for more than three years are being dusted now and signed by the CM in a hurry to help the realtor-development lobby.
The knives are drawn and there is no way to bring about peace as the electioneering is half-way through. The manifestos have been released very late and Raj Thackeray, chief of Maharashtra Nirman Sena-MNS-a fringe player at best, has unveiled his “blueprint” for development of Maharashtra. The ping-pong of passing the buck and the blame game in the background of breaking of alliance would continue till the evening of 13 October. The poll to be held on 15 October would decide who would rule the state although there is little doubt in either side that it would be the BJP that is going to form the government after the elections. But the contest is tougher than expected because of the split in the alliances. Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Therefore, has to strain himself to live up the expectations of the people, political observers and leaders and workers of his own party by campaigning energetically in the remaining few days and get his party into the government after a long gap.