A game of wait and watch in Maharashtra
The game of wait, watch and do little is being played in the political theatre of Maharashtra.
There is a poignant political pause in Maharashtra. The ruling alliance appears unwilling to set a governance agenda. The powerful opposition, in the form of the BJP, is in no hurry to return to power. The lack of ambitious politics seems to be becoming a hallmark of the coalition. The Congress has clearly developed a deep anxiety that the other two parties in the ruling coalition are gearing up to form an electoral alliance without it. The Congress leaders fear that the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party alliance will leave it in the lurch, even though the Lok Sabha and assembly elections are far away. The Congress leaders have almost made up their minds that the party is not going to benefit from being in the alliance any longer. This has placed the party in a peculiar position. It is an utterly unwilling partner in the government and is not playing the role of constructive critic on governance and ideological issues.
On the national scale of things, the Congress has been involved in multiple battles to save its state governments elsewhere. However, in Maharashtra, it appears that it will not mind not playing a role in the government, although it seems to lack the courage to leave it. The biggest casualty for the Congress is going to be its young workers, who expected rewards for standing firmly with the party during its very difficult time in the state. It is unsurprising that they are disheartened by the apathy of the Congress ministers. But the Congress lacks an agenda and a roadmap, thanks to its lacklustre leadership in the state.
The Shiv Sena is yet to grasp the magnitude of its position with regards to leading the state of Maharashtra, and the immense potential of occupying the Chief Minister’s position. It is yet to evolve from the psyche of administering a few municipal corporations. Its ministers, party leaders and spokespeople are struggling to lift themselves to the stature of the rulers of an important state. This, however, is not along unexpected lines. The grooming of Sena leaders and workers happened mostly when the party was sitting in the opposition in the state assembly, but in power in the municipal corporations of a few important cities. Its dominance in municipal corporations was the result of communal polarization, while its significant presence in non-urban areas is the result of a mixture of communal and caste polarizations. Equally significant is the fact that Shiv Sena’s growth in urban and non-urban areas alike is interwoven with the personal narratives of Sena leaders based on their roles as service providers to communities. In the Shiv Sena, there has never been the scope or space for policy discourse, or for long-term developmental visions for the state. This was one of the prominent reasons for the reversal of its fortunes vis-à-vis the BJP when they were allied with one another.
Once a dominant partner in the saffron alliance, the Shiv Sena failed to maintain its hegemony in the absence of comprehensive policy vision. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s decency and politeness is not a substitute for constructive agenda and policies for the state. In its absence, even Uddhav Thackeray has not been able to move beyond being the promise of better governance for the Shiv Sena and for Maharashtra. Uddhav Thackeray’s reticence as a political leader is one the greatest disservices he is rendering to himself, to his party and to the state.
In comparison, the Nationalist Congress Party is taking advantage of being in power, due to the actions of its assertive ministers such as Ajit Pawar and home minister Anil Deshmukh. Even then, many other leaders within the NCP are playing subdued roles that are not in keeping with their personalities and their stature. Be it Chhagan Bhujabal, Jitendra Awhad or Dhananjay Munde, these firebrand leaders are keeping a low profile for unknown reasons. The NCP has not been able to lay to rest the chatter about a rift within the Pawar family, which continues to add uncertainty to the future of the party, as well as the longevity of the mega-alliance government in the state. Even though political rationale should ideally prevail over political opportunism, the temptation of prospective but illusive power can play spoilsport for the NCP. It is clearly becoming a daunting task for Sharad Pawar to manage his active political family. This is perhaps the reason why, even after surprise gains in the assembly election and a favourable power sharing deal in the state ministry, NCP leaders look like a cautious lot. At this point, many within the NCP are looking forward to have a formal electoral alliance with the Shiv Sena in the forthcoming local government elections, followed by the Lok Sabha and assembly elections. Most of their voters would have no inhibitions with regards to an electoral understanding with the Shiv Sena. Such an alliance will offer Muslim voters a less evil option in the case of the dwindling prospects of the Congress in the state. The responses of the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress to the ceremony in Ayodhya on 5th August will dictate the Muslim vote. The Shiv Sena claimed its stand vindicated, but NCP leader Sharad Pawar questioned its necessity during the time of a global pandemic. While the Shiv Sena and the NCP catered to diagonally opposite sentiments of different sections, the Congress remained aloof and mute.
The BJP is aware of the challenges that a Shiv Sena-NCP alliance could pose to its electoral supremacy. Therefore, the BJP is working to discredit the mega-alliance rather than topple it. The inquiry into Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and BJP’s relentless media focus on this issue has this end in mind. The BJP has learned a hard lesson from the fiasco of the early morning swearing-in of Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar. This event rattled their core middle-class support group in the state and could be considered as the single most disliked decision of BJP by its own supporters. The action caused the great downfall of Devendra Fadnavis, which has rendered the BJP virtually leaderless in the state. Therefore, as of now, the BJP’s preference is not to attempt a formation of an uncertain government, but to continue discrediting the mega-alliance. At the same time, the BJP doesn’t want to push the government into a corner that would cause alliance partners to fear for their political survival. The game of wait, watch and do little is being played in the political theatre of Maharashtra.