There were always two strings to the bow of the Shiv Sena. One, that of Hindutva, has been carried off-stage bound in chains by its “secular” partners. But, there is still the other, unfettered- that of the Marathi Manoos.
Uddhav Thackeray, Chief Minister of Maharashtra asserted as much. Amongst his first acts was the allocation of another Rs 30 crores towards the 600 crore restoration of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s fabled fort in the Raigad mountains.
Uddhav announced this in front of a statue of Shivaji, at Shiv Sena’s own Shivaji Park, made the party’s launchpad from the 1960s. The stage for the oath-taking was built in a day to resemble the self-same Raigad Fort by one of Uddhav’s Bollywood set-making friends.
Meanwhile, former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is looking for another house. One to lead his 105-seat strong opposition from. Fadnavis has made an unmitigated mess of round two, or is it three, in less than a fortnight, duped by the senior Pawar and let-down by the junior one.
But Fadnavis has completed a full term of five years very successfully, a rarity in Maharashtra politics, not seen since VP Naik of Congress, who was CM for 11 years. Sharad Pawar himself never lasted a full term, not once in three stints.
This time, Sharad Pawar, at 79 going on 80, has humbled the political acumen and dexterity, not only of the portly Fadnavis, but that of Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister and Party President Amit Shah and his understudy Nadda, Governor Koshyari, and President Ram Nath Kovind too.
He was indefatigable,starting on Saturday the November, 23 soon after the Devendra Fadnavis- Ajit Pawar swearing-in, and stopping only three days later, on the November 26, when the duo were forced to resign.
Sharad Pawar conducted the entire orchestra of leaders, including Sonia Gandhi in Delhi and Uddhav Thackeray, pretty much at his side.
This, plus over 162 MLAs in all three parties, that make up the Maha Aghadi. He personally exhorted them to stick together, herding them into pens in a number of five-star hotels in Mumbai. He trooped them on or off buses, and into an anti-defection oath-taking ceremony under the gaze of national TV. Sharad Pawar also relentlessly pressurised rebellious nephew Ajit Pawar for all three days, till he had no option but to cry, uncle.
But, now, after the restrictions have been lifted, and the spectacular oath-taking ceremony has been concluded, can the surveillance and unity be sustained?
Sharad Pawar seems to think so by virtue of ensuring all three parties are involved in the government. But, since this alliance is largely to do with the loaves and fishes of office, what about those MLAs who do not get a ministry or other jagir to milk? Will they remain loyal through the projected five years of the Aghadi government?
The threat of being thrown out of the party if any of them resign is balanced by the relatively slim majority the Aghadi will command at the floor-test on December 3.
Ajit Pawar, though back in the NCP fold without punishment, and possibly the Deputy Chief Minister and Leader of the NCP legislative party once more come the December 4, has demanded a rotational CMship after 2.5 years. Congress too has also asked for a second Deputy CMship, instead of the Speaker’s post offered to it. How long therefore before the Congress, with 44 seats, to the Shiv Sena’s 56 and the NCP’s 54, also demands a turn as Chief Minister- perhaps in a 2-2-1 year formula?
If some 15 or 20 MLA’s in aggregate, depending on how many independent MLAs are roped in, from any or all of the three parties were to resign, the Aghadi government would fall.
Given the strictures of the anti-defection law, this would trigger a fresh election. If these 20 odd MLAs resign with the encouragement of Fadnavis’s BJP, they would probably be assured of BJP tickets and funding for their re-election.
In the meantime the BJP will hopefully win the forthcoming assembly elections, both in Jharkhand and later in Delhi, to restore their prestige somewhat.
The hyper-critical intelligentsia and BJP backing middle-class, disillusioned by the recent unprincipled but failed power grab, may yet be mollified by a good budget, with sops in their favour. The general economy too may be in for a cyclic if not a reform fuelled revival. Public memory is best served by success.
Will the BJP try to wrest power back in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, both lost very narrowly to the Congress, to restore their diminishing national foot-print? The answer is probably yes, given the opportune moment. And then there is the battle for West Bengal.
In the potentially $1 trillion economy of Maharashtra, from the BJP point-of-view, there will be no redemption short of winning back the state. If this comes about, it will be not only payback to the old war-horse, but a significant setback to Opposition dreams, including those of Uddhav, of coming to power at the centre in 2024.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)