It was an action clearly fuelled by a naked greed for power and a sense of entitlement amongst the SS leadership that views Maharashtra as its fiefdom.
The sordid, nerve wracking, roller coaster ride that Maharashtra has been subject to post the Assembly election results is a tribute to the ugly; an exhibition of revolting ideological heresy, a celebration of rank political opportunism and a disgusting paean to the greed for power. That no party came out of this morally unscathed is an understatement. It brought out the worst in our political system.
When the Assembly election results were announced on 24 October, it was for all intents and purposes a slam dunk outcome that held no surprises. The clear majority handed to the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance by the people of Maharashtra meant another five years of a stable BJP-SS government. But that was not to be.
Uddhav Thackeray set the cat among the pigeons by demanding a disproportionate share of the political pie. The Shiv Sena had won only 56 seats to the BJP’s 105; its strike rate also was much lower. Yet the SS struck a maximalist position insisting that the Chief Minister’s position be shared on a rotational basis; the rumour that a greenhorn like Aaditya Thackeray was to be the Sena’s CM candidate made this demand all the more unsustainable.
When this demand was not forthcoming, the SS broke away from the BJP to explore the option of aligning with ideologically disparate parties like the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress. This must unequivocally count as the original sin; it was a direct negation of the people’s mandate, which was for a BJP-SS government; and an action clearly fuelled by a naked greed for power and a sense of entitlement amongst the SS leadership that views Maharashtra as its fiefdom.
The SS leadership may consider the appointment of Uddhav Thackeray as the CM of the Maha Vikas Agadi (SS-NCP-Congress) as a strategic masterstroke and a political triumph vis-à-vis the BJP, but the uncertainties and contradictions of this khichdi combination have the forebodings of what could be a Pyrrhic victory. The Sena’s current stance belies its traditional history, militates against its basic ideology and appears mindless about its political future.
Speaking to the media a Shiv Sena leader remarked, “We are happy that finally the dream of Balasahebji Thackeray is being fulfilled. Maha Vikas Aghadi will be led by Uddhav Thackeray, guided by Sharad Pawar, and Soniaji madam has made immense contribution to it, so we will do great work for Maharashtra.”
Invoking Balasaheb Thackeray to sanctify this unholy alliance and referring to Balasaheb Thackeray and Sonia Gandhi in the same breath must rank as the mother of all ironies. Thackeray was inveterate political foe of the Congress, with no love lost between Sonia Gandhi and him. Bal Thackeray must be turning over in his grave.
Once, criticising Sonia Gandhi’s bid to grab power, Balasaheb had conjectured: “I would prefer handing back power to the British, who have at least experience of ruling the country for 150 years.”
The Shiv Sena’s ideological rupture from Hindutva by aligning with the Congress may prove to be its political Waterloo. The SS is a passionate cadre-based party, with its workers totally committed to the ideology of Hindutva. There are already signs of growing discontent among its rank and file. In its greed for power, the SS may have undermined its ideological underpinning and signalled its own political death knell.
On a more mundane basis, its immediate future is subject to the canny political acumen of Sharad Pawar and the aspirations of the NCP, not to speak of the unrealistic ambitions of the Congress. Ajit Pawar, the renegade nephew, has already been rehabilitated in the NCP; chances of him once again becoming the NCP legislative leader are strong and posters have even appeared as early as the inaugural ceremony of the new government, projecting of him as the future CM. Did Sharad Pawar pull a fast one on everybody including Uddhav Thackeray?
It would be unfair to let the BJP off without a rap on the knuckle. The BJP on its part could have aborted an unnecessary crisis by being more magnanimous in its dealings with the SS. Despite the irrational intransigence of the SS and its unfair demands, the BJP should have been more accommodative in the wider interest of a stable government and ideological symmetry. This was clearly an error in judgement. This break-up may also return to haunt the BJP in the general elections of 2024 in the event it fails to score a complete majority.
The BJP and the SS have had innumerable differences in the past. But Balasaheb’s vision and sagacity along with the pragmatism of the Vajpayee-Advani duo averted any breakup in the larger interest of ideological concurrence and political advantage to the benefit of both.
Politics is the art of the possible and anything can happen in the future. But present scenario denotes a lose-lose situation for both the BJP and the SS; short term for the BJP by the loss of a major state and long term for the Shiv Sena by its political uncertainty. But the biggest losers of all are the people of Maharashtra whose mandate has been summarily negated.