Indian political leaders never fail to surprise. They can say one thing and do another thing. That is what happened in Maharashtra. After bluffing the whole world about the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress sewing up an agreement to form a government under Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar sprang a surprise by aligning his party with the BJP.
On Saturday, people woke up with the news that the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis and the NCP’s Ajit Pawar were sworn in as Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister respectively.
The BJP is prepared to go to any extent to have its way. Ajit Pawar has proved to be a great deal maker. It makes perfect sense for him to join hands with the BJP for he faces corruption charges. The NCP can also hope to have some ministerial posts at the Centre. Politics is the art of the possible. Modi and Pawar have proved that they are the master practitioners of politics, devoid of principles.
Looking back, the mandate in the October elections was clearly for the BJP and the Shiv Sena. They could have provided a stable government for the next five years. The voters wanted the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress to sit in the Opposition and play their role of keeping the government under check. Alas, that did not happen.
The BJP-NCP government is as adharmik as the BJP government in Karnataka. How did the BJP and the Shiv Sena fall out after contesting as an alliance and winning enough seats to form a government?
The Shiv Sena and the BJP were ideologically so close that they could be called Siamese twins. Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray used to claim that the karsevaks who actually brought down the Babri Masjid were from his party.
The Shiv Sena was actually a greater proponent of Hindutva than even the BJP. Nothing surprising as the author of “Hindutva” and the founders of the RSS were from the same state. It was not uncommon for the party founder to refer to a section of the electorate as Green Rats.
The Srikrishna commission which inquired into the Mumbai riots had documented how the SS cadres systematically targeted the minority community in the metropolis only because they did not approve of their religious faith and practices. Small wonder that the BJP and the Shiv Sena had remained partners for the longest period.
Yet, on Friday last, one of the Shiv Sena leaders, Sanjay Raut, said that even if the BJP offered the party Indra’s position, it would reject it outright. For those who do not know Indra, He is the lord of Heaven where everything is opulent and plentiful. Obviously, he was clueless that the NCP was in secret talks with the BJP!
No political leader would normally speak in this manner because no one knows for sure what happens next, given the mercurial nature of politics. If anything, his words were a comment on the bitterness that exists between the BJP and the Shiv Sena. How did this happen?
I have two grandsons. They often fight over petty issues. Sometimes, they bring their dispute to me for arbitration. Many a time, I would find the younger one at fault. Yet, I would advise the elder one to compromise on the ground that he is elder. That is how their disputes are settled most of the time.
Some may question the decision of the arbitrator on the ground that justice is blind. All I have to tell them is that the five-member Bench which heard the Ayodhya case also followed the same principle.
The Bench knew that the situation in the country would have been terrible if it had handed over the disputed 2.7 acres of land to the Muslims. That is why the court said that although the Muslims had been in continuous possession of the Masjid for nearly 500 years, the planting of the idol in 1949 was an act of fraud and the demolition in 1992 was an act of violence, the land should still go to the Hindus.
It took into consideration the fact that Ayodhya was synonymous with Ram and Hindus needed a magnificent temple there. There is an element of injustice in the court’s decision but it ensured peace and safety to the Muslims.
Similarly, the BJP could have been considerate to the Shiv Sena. What did the party want? It wanted chief ministership for the first half of the five-year tenure. It also wanted a written assurance in this regard. Was the demand unheard of? What right did Devendra Fadnavis have which Uddhav Thackeray did not have?
When Fadnavis was chosen as Chief Minister five years ago, few had known him outside of the state. His only claim to the post was that he was the favourite of the Nagpur bosses and he happened to be the BJP’s state leader when elections were held. This factor worked in his favour this time also.
There have been umpteen instances when a larger party vacated the seat of chief minister in favour of the leader of a smaller party. In Karnataka, Hardanahalli Devegowda Kumaraswamy could become the Chief Minister last time only because the Congress willingly gave him the post.
The heavens would not have fallen if Fadnavis had allowed Thackeray to become the Chief Minister. It would have been seen as a measure of political adjustment. Since the BJP had more MLAs than the Shiv Sena, the remote control would have been with the party.
Also, the BJP would have had a larger share of the ministerial portfolios. What does the BJP lack? It is in power at the Centre. It has its nominees in the Rashtrapati Bhavan and all the Raj Bhavans. It has its nominees to head all autonomous organisations and Central universities like JNU.
Did it really matter that the chief ministership of Maharashtra went to the Shiv Sena, which had been its partner for nearly four decades? Look at Haryana. How much compromises it had to make to let its nominee remain in power, although Manoharlal Khattar had lost the mandate to rule.
What was at display was the arrogance of the BJP which was not prepared to accommodate the views of its ally. This did not happen all of a sudden. Gone were the days of what was called the coalition dharma!
The first government formed by the BJP was a minority one. It lasted only 13 days. In May last, the BJP was re-elected to power with a larger number of seats. There has been a marked change in the attitude of the government towards its coalition partners.
Modi came to power in 2014 promising development but he caused a great havoc to development when he demonetised 500 and 1000-rupee notes. Yet, he managed to achieve a greater victory in 2019 by exploiting the Pulwama incident to the hilt. He cared two hoots for public sensibilities as manifested in the fielding of a terror accused in the elections.
For once, the gamble paid off. The BJP got a clear mandate to rule. The allies became expendable. When AB Vajpayee was Prime Minister, the National Democratic Alliance of which the BJP was a constituent had a convenor in George Fernandes who could play his role well.
The BJP never dared to mention its core programmes — building of a magnificent temple at Ayodhya, a uniform civil code and abrogation of Article 370 — when Vajpayee was in power. Modi, too, did not refer to any of these demands during his campaign in 2014.
Once the party got a clear majority and was no longer dependent on any of its allies like the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal, it showed greater interest in pursuing Hindutva. The first law it passed after returning to power was the Triple Talaq law.
The fact of the matter is that the Supreme Court had already declared triple talaq as unlawful and anyone could question such a divorce in a court of law. But because it concerned Muslims, a law was passed with alacrity.
There is only a microscopic minority of women who allegedly suffer from triple talaq while there are many who are deserted by their husbands. Divorce is a civil issue but in the case of triple talaq, it has been made a criminal issue. In the case of Article 370, it was abrogated without as much as consulting the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.
In the BJP, only two people - Modi and Amit Shah - matter. The rest are there only to say Hallelujah to them. Even Cabinet ministers cannot appoint anyone in their personal secretariat except with the approval of the PMO.
The BJP is in a state of paralysis. Of course, its leaders are allowed to rake up such issues as cow and beef. Given this moribund state of affairs in the ruling party, one can imagine how the allies must be feeling. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party was the first to leave the NDA. It must have felt suffocated in the NDA. According to a report which appeared in January, 16 parties had quit the NDA since Modi came to power in 2014. The Shiv Sena is the last to do so. The arrogance of the BJP was evident in the way it treated the Sena.
The moment the Shiv Sena nominee in the Modi Cabinet resigned, the party got the Sena’s seats in Parliament shifted to the Opposition benches. It was a message to the party that they were no longer welcome in the NDA. The Shiv Sena underestimated Modi and Shah while it failed to realise the cunningness of Pawar.
Modi often talks about democratic centralism but he does not give any leeway to any other party. Does it pay any dividends? Modi is under the mistaken impression that Hindutva alone is sufficient to win elections. Had that been the case, the party should have swept the polls in Haryana and Maharashtra.
Haryana, for instance, has the toughest anti-cow slaughter law in the country. Punishment for cow slaughter is severer than for man slaughter. The elections were held in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370. Modi and Shah frequently referred to Kashmir in their election campaigns. Yet, the party did not get the margin it wanted.
The fact is that people are fed up with rhetoric. They want progress for which peace and harmony are the prerequisites. The BJP openly says it wants a Congress-free country. What it does not say is that it wants an opposition-free country. It does not want any allies, either.
Sharad Pawar formed his party to oppose Sonia Gandhi’s dominance in the Congress. Yet, he had no compunction in joining hands with her for pecuniary and other benefits. It is the same motive that drove him to the BJP camp. Of course, he also could not be unaware of the cases against his colleagues and that the BJP government could screw him.
Pawar does not know that the BJP seeks allies only to devour them like a cobra which the famous snake-catcher in Kerala Vava Suresh caught near Thiruvananthapuram the other day, The reptile was staying close to a cat which had delivered three kittens to swallow them. Before it could strike, he caught the cobra and put it in a bottle. Alas, there is no Vava to save the BJP’s allies! Let the NCP know this.
(Published on 25th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 48)