Tragicomedy in Maharashtra

The BJP Maharashtra unit headquarters at Mumbai’s Nariman point is deserted after Devendra Fadnavis resigned as Chief Minister on November 26, 2019.

The BJP Maharashtra unit headquarters at Mumbai’s Nariman point is deserted after Devendra Fadnavis resigned as Chief Minister on November 26, 2019.   | Photo Credit: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury


Recent events will have long-term implications for the BJP as well as the future of democracy

The BJP seems to have egg on its face with the collapse of its attempt to return to power in Maharashtra with the aid of a breakaway Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) faction led by Ajit Pawar. The immediate consequence of its failure is clear. The Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray will be taking office soon.

However, the impact of this tragicomedy is likely to be much more severe than the mere change of government. The events of the last month, and especially the strange happenings of the last week, will have important implications for the BJP’s fortunes nationwide. More important, they will have major implications for the workings of India’s constitutional system. And they give rise to significant issues concerning the political culture and political morality of the country.

Colossus with feet of clay

The BJP’s inability to keep the Shiv Sena within the Hindutva fold demonstrates that it is a colossus with feet of clay. The arrogance of the BJP leadership, especially following the parliamentary elections this year, is partly to blame for this fiasco. More importantly, the fundamental disjuncture between the BJP’s national ambitions and the Shiv Sena’s fixation with preserving its regional base lay at the core of the discord between the two parties. This fundamental divergence had been papered over for the past 25 years, but the outcome of the last election that gave a disproportionate share of the seats to the BJP brought it out into the open. The Shiv Sena leadership concluded after the elections that it had to demonstrate its independence from the BJP to retain its credibility as the standard bearer of Maratha pride, already under severe challenge by the Sharad Pawar-led NCP.

Following its divorce with the Shiv Sena, the BJP leadership attempted to win over a section of the NCP to form the government in Mumbai. This decision has been directly attributed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. Its failure means that both the tallest leaders of the BJP have been shown as politically immature. Moreover, this episode has also demonstrated that regional parties with firm resolve — in this case, the Shiv Sena and the NCP — can successfully checkmate the dominant national party on their turf.

Constitutional issues

The events of the past week have also raised disturbing constitutional issues. The clandestine and hurried manner in which the Governor’s letter recommending removal of President’s rule was obtained in the middle of the night demonstrates that the Central government had ulterior motives behind the exercise. Even more, the disregard for the constitutional provision making it mandatory for the Cabinet to meet and make such a recommendation to the President has raised questions about the propriety of the decision. If the Supreme Court, which is seized of the matter, determines that this act violated the Constitution, it would create a constitutional crisis and bring into question the credibility of the Central government.

Finally, the way all parties have behaved during this episode does not do credit to any one of them. The Shiv Sena, the NCP, and the Congress all took recourse to the strategy of sequestering their elected legislators in hotels in order to prevent them from being poached by the BJP with the offer of huge sums and/or ministerial berths. This is a sad reflection not only on the BJP’s presumed designs but also on the commitment of members of the other parties to their organisations and ideologies. A poacher will make an attempt to poach only if he is sure that the targets are amenable to being bought off. Unfortunately, this has become normal practice in India today. It reveals that elected representatives do not consider themselves accountable to the electorate for their actions. This attitude clearly demonstrates the shallow basis of Indian democracy and does not augur well for its future.

Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 6:51:09 AM |

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