There is an old saying: “A photograph is worth more than a thousand words”. I would like to draw your attention to some pertinent photographs – Sharad Pawar sitting in a chair and Shiv Sena chief, Uddhav Thackeray, bowing to him in respect; Supriya Sule welcoming Maharashtra’s newly-elected legislators, and hugging Aditya Thackeray and Ajit Pawar in the Vidhan Sabha annexe; Devendra Fadnavis announcing his resignation after a mere 80 hours of being sworn in as chief minister (CM) for a second time; and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons confident of proving the party’s majority in the House just before its government collapsed. And, at the end of it all, a photo of the new CM, Uddhav Thackeray, prostrating before the public.
You may find contradictions in these images. Each of them have various meanings and subtexts to them.
Let us first look at the BJP high command. The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine has won most of the elections the party has fought in the last six years. Even when they did not win, they were able to turn things around in their favour by various means. Like Maharashtra, Haryana too voted for a hung assembly. But then, Dushyant Chautala, a staunch critic of the BJP, went on to befriend it. In Maharashtra, the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party were working overtime to prepare a joint programme with the Shiv Sena. But suddenly, on November 30, they found Fadnavis taking oath as the Maharashtra CM for the second time. This time, Ajit Pawar was suddenly in the role of Devendra Fadnavis’ ally. This is similar to the BJP’s experiments in Goa, Bihar, Haryana and Manipur.
For Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray, this was a bolt from the blue. But they remained steady in their course. Within 24 hours, it was proved conclusively that NCP’s only real leader was Sharad Pawar. The Maratha satrap once again proved that he is unparalleled as far as grassroots-level political battles are concerned. Now that Uddhav Thackeray has taken office as the state’s CM, the BJP’s old guard could well be wondering whether the party should have changed its strategy well in time.
It is clear that the BJP will have to deal with some uncomfortable questions. For example, Jharkhand is going through assembly elections at present. Will developments in Mumbai have any impact on Ranchi? This will be followed by the Delhi elections early next year, and Bihar at the end of 2020. Although the Janata Dal (United) is part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), it refused to ally with the BJP in the last assembly elections. Will it now try to impress on the BJP that it is indispensable? In politics, the indispensability factor helps you bargain harder.
There are, however, questions for the other side too. The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA)’s victory comes after a series of defeats for the Opposition at the hands of the BJP. There is an atmosphere of joy and enthusiasm in the MVA camp. But they shouldn’t forget that although Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress leaders have been able to present a united front, uniting the rank and file of these parties on the ground will be a real challenge. Thackeray will have to keep in mind HD Kumaraswamy’s fate in Karnataka, when his government collapsed due to internal contradictions.
The key question is whether the new CM will be able to work in harmony with his new allies. The NCP, in particular, will seek to exercise power. The BJP must be watching this with great interest. While Uddhav Thackeray has just crossed one phase of the political chakravyuh, maze, in the next five years, he will have to work hard to keep everyone happy. If he succeeds, his role will be that of the victorious Arjun in Mahabharata. But if he fails, he might well meet the fate of Abhimanyu, who entered but was unable to exit the maze.
Maharashtra holds out lessons for the NCP and other regional parties too. Every victory could prove momentary. This is because such coalitions are formed not on the basis of ideology but other interests. Political power can only be stable when you work for the greater public good. The MVA can prove its mettle if the common man benefits from its policies.
There’s a lesson in this for the Congress. Despite getting 11.9 crore votes in the last last Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi stepped down from the post of party president. With this, he ceded political space. Maharashtra shows that voters want to keep the Opposition not just alive, but also strong. But for that to happen, the leaders of responsible political parties will also have to become active agents and take responsibility.
Those in high constitutional office must also learn a lesson from Maharashtra. History will take stock of their actions.