Politicking for power and the power of politics
Amit Shah's eye continues to be fixed on Maharashtra. But there are three reasons why the BJP is likely to allow the Uddhav Thackeray-led government to continue. Parimal Maya Sudhakar explains.
Will he? Won't he? Certainly, he will! BJP’s Mission Man and India’s powerful home minister, Amit Shah, will not stop trying until the Maharashtra government is toppled. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Amit Shah has not relented on implementing his party’s political agenda and re-instating a BJP-led government in Maharashtra is high on his priority list. Yet, Uddhav Thackeray’s multi-party government is going to survive for now despite all the rumours in the air.
Three factors are in Uddhav Thackeray’s favour. One, the BJP is not likely to want to be at the helm when Maharashtra has emerged as the hotspot of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Currently, the BJP is preventing the opposition at the centre from criticising the Modi government for its monumental failures simply because it could divert attention to key opposition-run states such as Maharashtra and West Bengal. Even the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, is attempting to divert attention from his administration’s failures by commenting on the issues in Maharashtra. The return of Fadanvis as the Maharashtra Chief Minister or the imposition of the President’s rule in Maharashtra is going to heat up criticism of the Modi-Shah government at the centre, especially with regards to tackling the pandemic. Thus, the BJP is successfully keeping Maharashtra in the news to divert attention from its grand failures. It wants uncertainty to prevail but it is likely to refrain from doing what it did in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. The BJP will wait until there is a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases, or at least until another issue dominates the media and public space.
The second reason contributing to the temporary stability of Thackeray’s ministry is the non-traction of BJP’s campaign against the state government amongst ordinary people. BJP is not missing any opportunity to criticize and attack the Thackeray government. However, all of it has been seen as a desperate attempt by former Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis to grab power. BJP’s cadre and supporters are not enthused by the theatrics of BJP’s state leadership. Ordinary people are turning the other way and ignoring the BJP’s activities while some of them are likely developing contempt for their hunger for power. Even the flames that BJP tried to fan with regards to the lynching of the two sadhus died out soon. Last week, the BJP called for a protest against the state government’s failures through which it tried to decipher the public mood. This did not work in their favour, much to the dismay of Fadnavis and company. More importantly, the workers of Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, along with anti-BJP individuals and groups in the state, are taking Fadnavis and his party by the horns. It’s a sea change in the approach of party workers as well as small political groups. Earlier, the Congress-NCP workers never took the opposition’s allegations and criticisms seriously, but this is no longer the case. On the other hand, many small groups and organizations are now reluctant to equate Congress-NCP with the BJP-RSS. They do see the difference even though many of them are not satisfied with the functioning of the Thackeray government.
The third and most important reason why the Shiv-Sena-NCP-Congress government will continue to survive is because none of them will gain anything by parting ways unless the BJP agrees to offer the Chief Minister’s post to the rebel party. Given the BJP IT cell’s continuous attacks on the Thackeray-led government, it is unlikely that they are in any mood to re-align with the Shiv Sena on the latter’s conditions. Another way for the BJP to topple the government is to offer Chief Ministership to Ajit Pawar and re-engineer a split in the NCP. Otherwise, what would be the incentive for Ajit Pawar to destabilize the Maharashtra government? Can the BJP afford to offer such largesse to the NCP or Ajit Pawar’s faction within the NCP? While any such proposition would be suicidal for Ajit Pawar, it would be no less than hara-kiri for Devendra Fadanvis.
Amongst such non-possibilities of a government overhaul, one needs to look at Sharad Pawar’s ‘courtesy visit’ to the state governor, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari. It has sparked speculations that Pawar has an offer from BJP’s central leadership to join the NDA. The offer, as being speculated, is to retain the current ministerial berths in the state government, but with Devendra Fadnavis as the Chief Minister, and to get two to three ministerial positions in the union government. Such talks are not new. In the aftermath of the assembly election results in the state, many had made this prophecy. Rather, most of them wanted it to happen and perhaps still wish for it only to prove their decades-old assumption.
In 1999, when Sharad Pawar divided the Congress in Maharashtra and formed NCP, many people thought that he would be joining the Vajpayee-led NDA. In fact, in 1999, when the Lok Sabha and assembly elections were held simultaneously in the state, the newly formed NCP contested without any major alliance partner. After the results, Pawar had a golden opportunity to form a state government with the NDA and get a plump ministerial position in Vajpayee’s ministry. Sharad Pawar, rather, decided to mend fences with Sonia Gandhi and preferred to share power with the Congress in the state and decided to sit on the opposition benches in the parliament. However, rumours never died of Pawar allying with the BJP. In the post assembly election scenario in Maharashtra in 2019, those talks resurfaced, leading to the guesses that Ajit Pawar’s move to join hands with Devendra Fadnavis was not a revolt but a planned strategy. Again, Pawar did everything to turn the tables against the BJP and his own nephew. If Pawar had to be in the BJP’s club, that was as good an opportunity as it was in 1999. Those who analyse the power games only from the prism of personal ambitions of the leaders often end up with disappointments. Sharad Pawar keeps on disappointing many of his critics for the same reason.
Ambitions and desires, indeed, play a crucial role in politics, but nothing can match the power of politics itself. Politics is not about fulfilling personal goals and not an arena to settle persona scores. Anyone who fails to understand it doesn’t survive in politics for long. Pawar knows it and has learnt the hard way to give preference to politics over personal ambitions. No one acknowledges it but Pawar believes in NCP’s political space in the state. It is not restricted to Marathas alone in actuality and possibilities. Otherwise, Pawar would have been sitting pretty by now in the lap of the BJP. Thus, there is no immediate threat to Uddhav Thackeray from Sharad Pawar. This brings the onus of the survival of the government on the Congress party. It has to decide whether it wants to defend the non-BJP political space in the country, or whether to surrender it to Amit Shah – just like in Goa, north-eastern states, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.