The Maharashtra Drama

What has happened in Maharashtra is, as everybody will admit, unprecedented in the history of India's parliamentary politics. At midnight, one alliance, dependent on defectors, claims the right to form the ministry. A few hours later, before the crack of dawn, President's rule, imposed because of a hung assembly, is revoked by the President at the behest of the Prime Minister. Immediately, Debendra Phadnavis is sworn in as the chief minister and Ajit Pawar as his deputy. They are given about one week to win in the trust vote. But Sharad Pawar, the NCP chief is too clever to be cowed down. He puts up his MLAs in a hotel so as to pre-empt the possibility of further defection. Then his ally, the Congress and the Shiv Sena move the Supreme Court, which gives the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies one day's time. Sensing a certain defeat, they resign, and thus a ministry ousts itself within three days of its installation.

The event has proved that the ruling BJP is not averse to buying MLAs for the sake of power. They have earlier succeeded in several states because ratting is a profitable business and many lawmakers may change sides provided the reward is sufficiently large. The event has also shown that all sorts of civilised norms can be violated by a governor and even a president when it comes to serving the interests of the ruling party. The BJP has been humiliated, and the image of Amit Shah as a master manipulator (Chanakya) has also received a blow. Sharad Pawar has proved wiser than his electoral enemy in the game.

Those who are staunch BJP haters should not be too elated, however. The Shiva Sena and the BJP fought the assembly polls together, and the post-poll split took place not over any principle, but on the question of whether the chair of the chief minister would be shared temporally. Now the BJP is accusing the Shiv Sena of treachery, and also of deviating from Hindutva, which means attacking Muslims and dalits. It is curious that the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) on which the alliance between the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress is based does not contain any explicit Hindutva agenda. Thus, the BJP's accusation may not be altogether ill-founded. The record of the Shiv Sena on the communal question is also infamous. The riots in 1992-3 in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid were first incited by the Shiv Sena and these riots drenched the city of Mumbai with innocent Muslim blood. Then followed some nefarious incidents of revenge, which included an explosion in a hospital. There is as yet no decisive indication that the Shiv Sena has made a complete break with the BJP-style Hindutva. A more interesting question is whether its government will challenge the interests of the large corporate groups who have emerged with great power out of the liberalisation period. Pressure will be there, of course. But if it refuses to yield, there is every possibility that attempts will be made to topple it in the near future. The agenda of this corporate lobby and its foreign larger partners are the agenda of the BJP. Of this,one glaring example is the huge reductions in corporate taxes. Things cannot be otherwise if the BJP wishes to remain in power at the centre.

The NRC and the CAB are also parts of this agenda. If a large number of people can be rendered stateless and deprived the rights that legitimate citizens are entitled to, they will add to the reserve army of labour and be forced to work at less than subsistence wages. It is not that the projects of NRC and the CAB have been floated in order to divert popular attention from the economic crisis, farmers' distress etc. The NRC and CAB are meant to serve the hunger for super profits of the corporate houses. The disastrous consequences are already apparent, and resentment is growing. The outcome of the bypolls in three assembly seats in West Bengal is some sort of a pointer to this resentment. The Trinamool Congress has won all the three. In two of these the BJP got huge leads in the latest Lok Sabha polls. What does its defeat signify? The results reflect more the defeat of the BJP than the victory of the TMC.

It is certain that the BJP will not stop its drive for going ahead with its agenda of one nation, one religion, one language. All the aspects of this agenda are backed by the chambers of commerce representing India's big business. Hence the need of the hour is to uphold the principle of federalism and diversity.

The decline of saffron power within such a short period is so dramatic that the battered BJP establishment is yet to reconcile itself with the changed reality. Even Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) is now on the defensive, talking consensus about Ram Temple at the disputed site of Ayodhya. Come what may the project of Hindu Rashtra as envisaged in the Nagpur headquarters of RSS has suffered a jolt after electoral reversals of BJP in recently held assembly elections in Mharashtra and Haryana. Modi magic no longer works. But that is not really the point. The point at issue is why so many people are still swayed by the rise of political right. Perhaps this is the general trend across the world. India is no exception.

For one thing both Sonia Gandih's Congress Sharad Power's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have succeeded in splitting vertically the Shivsena-BJP nexus it is bound to impact Sena's hard Hindutva stance. Incidentally Shivsena was originally mooted by Bal Thakrey to bash South Indian migrants who were stealing local jobs but finally it took a political and ideological stand against muslims. Along with BJP they now pose a serious threat to secular constitution of India.


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Vol. 52, No. 24, Dec 15 - 21, 2019