Analysis: Conditions that led to formation of government in Maharashtra are intact though BJP, it appears, is happy to fish in troubled waters

Rahul Gandhi   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s statement that his party was “only supporting” the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra and was not, in his words, a “key decision maker” there set off a flurry of political speculation, with the BJP, it appeared, happy to fish in troubled waters.

Combined with the soaring numbers of the COVID-19 positive patients and casualties thereof from Maharashtra, especially Mumbai, the BJP felt that it provided ample proof that the coalition running the State was rickety, and had too many internal contradictions. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar, however, was quick to step in to smooth things over holding meetings with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and getting his party to put out a statement that there was nothing factually wrong with what Mr. Gandhi said.

It did, however, put the focus back on the politics in the State which has seen a gestalt in 2019, with the alliance among the Congress, the Shiv Sena and the NCP, with a member of the Thackeray family becoming Chief Minister, and another winning a popular Assembly poll.

State of play

It can be said quite clearly that in forming the MVA, canny veteran Sharad Pawar had pulled a fast one over the BJP in a way that is still hard for the saffron party to digest. The BJP lost not only one of its oldest allies of the NDA, it also had to face the ignominy of a hurried dawn swearing in at the Mumbai Raj Bhavan, only to find that it didn’t have the numbers to carry the House and had backed the wrong (Ajit) Pawar to tide it over. Maharashtra slipping through its almost firm grip is a festering sore till date.

As an Opposition party the BJP has been, therefore, at the forefront of pointing out the missteps of the MVA in its handling of COVID-19, with just cause. Periodically, there is also talk of how Union Home Minister Amit Shah had some trick or the other up his sleeve to regain Maharashtra, either by wooing back the Shiv Sena or by striking a deal with the NCP. Mr. Gandhi’s statement therefore encouraged all these speculations but does that really reflect what could happen?

A long game

In at least two of the books that have recently come out on the formation of the MVA government — Jitendra Dixit’s “35 days: how Politics in Maharashtra Changed Forever in 2019” and Sudhir Suryawanshi’s book “Checkmate: How BJP won and lost Maharashtra” — there are very clear indications that the Congress MLAs had forced the high command in Delhi to be part of the MVA coalition, and that Mr. Gandhi was never very enthusiastic about the decision.

Mr. Suryawanshi’s book in fact has a very telling description of individual calls made to Congress MLAs who were holed up in a Jaipur resort as an anti-poaching measure by party president Sonia Gandhi. Each of these calls ended with the same message from the MLAs, that they were in favour of joining the coalition and implicit in such advocacy was also a threat of splitting the party if their views were not taken on board.

That position remains as was as far as the Congress MLAs in the State are concerned. Mr. Gandhi’s well known reservations over the MVA too remain in his less than ringing endorsement of it. Therefore the question of any new developments, of the Congress walking out of the MVA after Mr. Gandhi’s statement or even hinting at it, does not arise.

Mr. Pawar senior’s reasons for forming the MVA, of breaking the hegemony of the saffron alliance and keeping his own flock intact for the next generation in the party via the glue of power, also remains the same.

That leaves us with the question of the national leadership of the BJP, for everyone realises that while the State unit may want what it wants, the national leadership may have other ideas.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rescue act on behalf of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, when the latter called him up to request that bypolls to the Legislative Council be held on time so that he could be elected to at least one House to retain his seat as Chief Minister, was significant.

While the commonly held wisdom is that it was the lack of deference to an old ally that pushed Shiv Sena out of the NDA, this rescue act signals that old friendships may yet bloom. So while the State unit of the BJP may attack Mr. Thackeray with all guns blazing, he has shown that he can still count on Prime Minister Modi and old friendships.

What does this mean for Maharashtra? Quite simply, that conditions that led to the forming of the MVA government are still intact, with alliance partners still committed, and united in the goal of keeping the BJP out. The national leadership of the BJP understands that but is not averse to chipping away at these bonds of interest, one favour at a time.

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2021 1:41:37 PM |

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