It’s All About Power, Stupid! (Musings on the Meanders of ‘Maha’politics)

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That politics makes strange bedfellows is an axiom as old as the hills and no eye opener for the stoic Indian voter. He is, as such, bemused in no small measure when elections pitchfork, time and again, different combinations of political parties of divergent, and even diametrically opposite, views on important national or local issues, into the same camp while fighting electoral battles with rival parties. It is a widely-accepted political norm cutting across the party spectrum that all is fair in love and war.  Politics being all about love for power and warfare to capture the levers of power, alliances are made, remade and not infrequently, unmade for electoral gains. Since most, if not all, of the Indian parties in the reckoning for power either at the Centre or at the State level, primarily revolve around a single powerful leader who is the unquestioned Supremo of the party or a small group of oligarchs controlling the wheels of the party machinery, electoral alliances between like-minded parties who proclaim kinship in their separate fights against a common political enemy on grounds of ideology, tend to develop gaping holes on account of stubborn stands taken on grounds of self interests or egotism, on sharing the spoils of war. And that is exactly what happened with BJP and Shiv Sena (SS) in the elections which were held recently in Maharashtra for the state Assembly. Promotion of party interests by both parties had led to an inevitable rift.

BJP vs. Everybody Else

Flush with the sweeping mandate received in the May 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP chose to throw overboard its image of a piggyback rider of the bugbear of Maharashtra politics, Shiv Sena, and go it alone in Maharashtra. Call it faith in its political destiny, a calculated gamble based on inside information on the course of cross currents in the murky state politics, suicidal instincts or downright political audacity, if you will. The deadly Narendra Modi-Amit Shah war machine couldn’t be bothered. Surge ahead, it would. And, as the nation watched with a gasp, how it steamrolled full speed! It trampled over all that came its way, relegating Shiv Sena and Congress to a distant second and third place, respectively, in the race, closely followed by NCP. The people’s verdict was clear despite BJP’s failing to get a simple majority.

Losers’ Response

What followed were a spectacle of instincts of survival by NCP, arguably the greatest survivor of the Indian politics, and a sorry show of indignation by the unstoppable Shiv Sena, left licking its post-poll wounds. NCP lost no time in cozying up to the victor and extended unconditional support to BJP, apparently unsolicited, notwithstanding the acrimonious pre-poll relationship between the two parties.

Shiv Sena Sulks

With NCP’s proferred support from outside to a BJP government purportedly in the interests of political stability in the State, Shiv Sena got caught in a bind which made it go into a scowl, then petulance and eventually a sulk. Uddhav Thackeray told Media that it was up to BJP to consider NCP’s offer; if any party proposing to form the government wanted his party’s support, he could be contacted.  Notwithstanding reports of backroom parleys between SS and BJP regarding post-poll Alliance, SS has remained true to Uddhav’s proclaimed stand.  The Media went to town with stories of SS wanting, in exchange for its support to a BJP government, Deputy Chief Ministership and assorted plum posts in the Cabinet, like Home, Finance etc. SS was also reported threatening to pull out the plug on its proposed support if its demands were not met. This is precisely where the calculations of SS seem to have gone wrong – the threat part, that is.

No Wilting Under Pressure

BJP has played the game with all the cards close to its chest. Having learnt its bitter lessons during the political wilderness it endured in the wake of its routing at the hustings in 2004 notwithstanding the popular NDA-I government led by its illustrious leader Atal Behari Vajpayee, it was not inclined to miss any more opportunities to secure or retain power. Nor is Narendra Modi your run off the mill mealy-mouthed politician, given to buckling under a hard bargain. As detractors have found out to their peril rather late in the day, he seems to bristle and turn out ever more pugilistic than ever when confronted with deadlines or ultimatums. Pre or post election, he manages to sway public opinion his way and turn adverse circumstances and difficult conditions into opportunities for scoring more victories. The inability of crude and uncharitable barbs like ‘Chaiwallah’ and ‘Butcher of Gujarat ‘ to stick are cases in point. How his detractors would have loved to see him take alligator-wrestling instead of politics for full time occupation!  Given Modi’s no nonsense approach to fighting election and government formation, SS’s threat to sit on opposition benches in the State Assembly seems to have got it anything but the desired result. While maintaining a studious silence on acceptance of NCPs offer of unconditional support, BJP has called SS’s bluff by not giving in to its demands.

Shiv Sena Makes Threatening Noises

Uddhav Thackeray has also warned Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis that he should not go ahead and take unilateral action in matters like appointing a CEO for Mumbai city without due consideration and consultations. He has expressed apprehension about treating Mumbai city differently in the implementation of developmental projects vis-a-vis the rest of Maharashtra.

BJP’s Tightrope Walking

BJP’s bold action in forming a government in Maharashtra without the support of SS which continues to be a formidable force in the state politics may be applauded by all those who have reasons to be unhappy about the plight of Indian politics which had been held to ransom by coalition politics and rendered hopelessly ineffective by real politicking. Nevertheless, BJP would do well to factor in its scheme of things the fact that flagrant dalliance or courtship with NCP for remaining in power, if ever things came to such a pass, would be nothing short of suicidal. NCP is a heavily tainted party steeped neck deep in controversy. Mr.Modi had referred in his election campaign to NCP as a “Naturally Corrupt Party.” Any action on its part, contrary to Mr.Modi’s stated position, would harm BJP no end. It would, therefore, have to continue its tightrope walking which it has been so adroitly doing.

Shiv Sena to Sit It Out

Notwithstanding its disappointment and genuine reasons for frustration, Shiv Sena is hardly in a position to destabilize the BJP government for fear of the nightmarish scenario likely to emerge leading to political instability and uncertainty, the breeding grounds of horse-trading and policy paralysis – the very reasons which led to the dismissal of the Congress-NCP government and emergence of BJP as the single largest party in the subsequent election. Shiv Sena has grown to its present stature – the focus here is on the word ‘stature’ and not on the party’s numbers – from the days of its inception by Bal Thackeray, by instilling in its supporters a certain degree of hope and faith in the party’s capability to deliver. It has definitely not been an overnight growth or metamorphosis. The people of Maharashtra have amply exhibited their political maturity by sinking Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti hook, line and sinker and preferring to vote for SS as the second largest party. It is now the turn of SS to live up to the expectation of the people of Maharashtra by doing anything which would be construed as a brazen attempt to seize or control power.

Shocks and Surprises

Notwithstanding the above, there is no limit to the depths to which politics could plummet. Nor are there constraints on the behaviour of politicians in the barefaced world of real politicking. The stakes are too high for the average voter to even begin to comprehend. Wasn’t it only the other day that the BSP supremo Mayawati accused a party functionary of offering her a mind boggling sum of sixty crore rupees for nomination to the Rajya Sabha? And how about the technocrat Damaadshri of the Bihar Chief Minister admitting on camera how lucrative he found functioning as a facilitator of meetings and interactions with the exalted dignitary? While reposing faith in the political maturity of the electorate of Maharashtra, let us not forget that for every political leader genuinely wanting to serve the nation, there is any number of power brokers with ulterior motives and purveyors of political power lusting after power for their nefarious activities. To cut a long story short and to make not too fine a point, it’s all about power which, dear reader, is the ultimate high!  There are only shocks in the world of politics and hardly any surprise. It helps one to be an incurable optimist. Maybe we would be pleasantly surprised to discover that there are no shocks in store as the future course of events in Maharashtra pans out.

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