A full month after declaration of the assembly poll results, the Maharashtra government formation exercise has entered the dark realm of speculations. This despite the state’s voters giving a clear mandate to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena (SS) combine with a comfortable strength of 161 seats in an Assembly of 288. The squabbling partners could not agree upon sharing power, especially the chief minister’s post, and the rival Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Indian National Congress (INC) alliance jumped into the fray, complicating matters further.
The three unlikely partners – Sena, NCP and Congress – virtually burnt the midnight oil for days to iron out the deep political and ideological creases – Hindutva, Savarkar, Secularism and Nativism etc – and were all set to stake claim to form a government led by Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. But after a swift midnight operation, Delhi decided to lift the President’s rule in Maharashtra at 5.47 am on November 23. Governor B S Koshiyari moved fast to swear in Devendra Fadnavis, who had resigned as chief minister only two weeks ago, before the clock struck eight.
As if this wasn’t enough to jolt the state’s denizens out of the morning slumber, Ajit Pawar, nephew of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, walked in after Fadnavis and took oath as the deputy chief minister. Within minutes, all hell broke loose on television and mobile phone screens, where everybody began making sense of the early morning drama.
The paid trolls on social media platforms pitted one ‘Chanakya’ against the other. It soon became a free for all with none of the national and state leaders left untouched. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Pawar, Uddhav and Sena Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut, were dragged into trivial SM exchanges and forwards that heaped admiration and ridicule in equal proportion. The politicians were called opportunistic or nationalists, and their actions or moves as master strokes or miss hits, depending upon the trolls' preference of political ideologies.
Television journalists went a step further having dusted their old conspiracy theories, airing wild speculations as exclusives and breaking news: Seems Modi and Pawar were in cahoots so the latter had ditched the Sena and Congress; Pawar, the man who could be Prime Minister, would become the President in 2022; His daughter Supriya Sule will be made a Central minister; the nephew was already a deputy CM and additionally, Pawar’s grandson Rohit, recently elected an MLA, would gain a ministerial berth in Maharashtra!
As the day wore off and the dust began to settle down, things began to clear. But there was little consolation for the beleaguered state.
It seems the deal with Ajit Pawar was struck around midnight and Fadnavis alerted his Delhi bosses, who invoked a special rule to enable revocation of President’s rule without the requisite cabinet clearance. The first citizen of the country rubber stamped the proclamation and the home ministry issued an order at 5.47 am. The Governor cancelled his pre-scheduled visit to Delhi and prepared to swear in Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar. The revocation of President’s rule was made public only after the swearing-in ceremony, at 9 am.
Uncle vs nephew
BJP leaders told the media that the deal between BJP and NCP was struck last Wednesday when Sharad Pawar met the prime minister in Delhi to discuss relief for Maharashtra farmers reeling under stress due to a severe drought followed by unseasonal rains and floods. But Pawar Senior claimed he had no inkling when his nephew slipped out the previous night with a list of the party’s 54 MLAs to claim their support for the formation of a BJP-NCP government. The talks with the Sena and Congress were dragging unnecessarily, said Ajit and argued that a government formed by two parties would naturally be more stable than one floated by three disparate partners.
But the first nephew of Maharashtra politics, known for his impulsive and brash ways, ended up pushing the state into further chaos. His actions may have been prompted by internal family matters as indicated by his teary-eyed cousin Supriya Sule, who chose her WhatsApp status to confirm the party and family had indeed split. It seems ‘Ajitdada’ had been upset ever since his son, Parth, lost the Lok Sabha polls amid indications of Pawar Sr’s preference for Rohit as his successor.
Yet, what came as a greater surprise was the BJP’s hasty choice of Ajit Pawar as their political ally. The BJP had targeted him all along as a crowning example of the NCP’s corrupt ways. It’s a known fact that Fadnavis made a career out of Ajit Pawar’s involvement in the alleged multi-crore irrigation scam and the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank fraud, in which FIRs were recently registered against the now deputy chief minister and others accused of money laundering to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees, during the Congress-NCP coalition regime.
Whatever, the turn of events does not bode well for a state whose debt stood at Rs 4.7 lakh crore as of June 2019. The previous Fadnavis government has left the state in a ballooning financial burden along with several unmet challenges that continue to haunt – recurring droughts and rising rural distress, a highly truncated urbanization and the festering problem of regional disparity, which causes high malnutrition rates and life-threatening poverty for many. Add to this the effects of an economic slowdown and the havoc caused by recent unseasonal rains and floods, which experts warn are the effects of climate change.
Should this worry the nation? Maharashtra has served as the economic engine of the country for decades and continues to play a significant role in its development. It remains the top employer among India’s states, and also one of the most prosperous, but as an editorial in The Economist warned in 2012: “Another 20 years of misrule — venal coalition politics, delayed airports and roads, slums and rural poverty — would be ruinous.”
The latest events since the assembly elections hint at things taking a turn for the worse. The BJP’s fight for absolute control over a state that served as a Congress bastion since its inception in 1960, could eventually lead to political and social unrests among the varied strains of ideologies – Tilak, Agarkar, Phule, Ambedkar, Savarkar and Hedgewar, all hail from Maharashtra – that have coexisted, however uneasily, in the state so far.
The Maratha agitations, the Bhima Koregaon violence and farmer unrest in the recent past are indicators of the kind of trouble in store for a new government, unless these pressing issues are addressed in time. The troubled political coalitions though seem in no hurry as the lust for power beckons them.
The contentious issues related to government formation, including seeking a vote of confidence and the required floor test, have meanwhile reached the Supreme Court. The legal process would take its time even as discontent continues to brew among the state’s denizens.
Maharashtra should perhaps go for fresh elections sooner than later to end the political impasse. It could be a better option for the ordinary voter watching helplessly as the ruling elites play their own petty games.
(Anosh Malekar is an author and independent journalist based in Pune.)