The constitution does not prescribe it, but ultimately it’s all about the spoils of war. Everyone wants a piece of the action and complete control over a state’s machinery. Every leader, irrespective of party, wants the power to influence, and every party wants to increase its geographical and material hold. For these ambitions, best results can be achieved only from the chief minister’s chair.
The thought has propelled young Aaditya Thackeray, a third-generation Shiv Sena leader, into demanding the top slot after his very first elections. His father, Uddhav, has seen the growth of Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati through three such experiments with the Bharatiya Janata Party and Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh in the 1990s, and it is no surprise they want to push the BJP to is limits. The Sena is adamant on 2.5-year power sharing formula, which will mean that Aaditya can aspire to be a chief minister for at least half a term. This is something that the Shiv Sena would never have been able to achieve on its own, with its limited appeal in a small geographical area.
The ultimate seat of power in a state has an unlimited signing authority for projects throughout the state. There is also an unlimited travel allowance for the incumbent and a writ which no bureaucrat will ever dare deny. The path may also leads to national leadership at some point in the distant future. This is the path that Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar, H.D. Devegowda and indeed Prime Minister Narendra Modi have treaded.
Dushyant Chautala may have made the mistake of his life by not pushing the BJP hard enough to implement the 2.5 formula in Haryana as well. The vote was clearly against the incumbent, Manohar Lal Khattar. A section of the Jannayak Janata Party electorate is dissatisfied with the arrangement, which is likely to end in tragedy for the party at a very near future date if BJP’s recent record in Goa, Sikkim, Tripura and Mizoram is studied even superficially. Without the chief minister’s chair, Chautala will always be merely bargaining for his father and grandfather’s release, rather than extending his party’s influence.
The 2.5-year formula is in existence right now in at least one other state. It appears chief minister Bhupesh Baghel will have to vacate his seat for T.S. Singhdeo after another year and a half. The compromise intra-party formula was worked out in December 2018, after the Congress swept to a stupendous victory in Chhattisgarh. There were no clear favourites or even projected leaders for the chief minister’s chair.
The senior most amongst the present lot, Charan Das Mahant, was held in very low esteem by the then Congress president. He wanted Tamradhwaj Sahu but Sahu unfortunately had done very little in 15 years against the BJP, besides winning his own Lok Sabha seat with their help. The choice was ultimately between Singhdeo and Baghel, with about 42 MLAs backing the former. Ultimately it is believed Rahul Gandhi laid down the 2.5 formula for them and Baghel insisted that he should be the first incumbent.
With Rahul gone, what will happen in June 2021 is anyone’s guess. An incumbent Baghel, riding on the OBC card, is entrenching himself, and whoever is then Congress president may find it harder to dislodge him. He has also been able to clean the BJP out of Bastar, so he knows his business.
That may be the BJP’s Achilles’ heel in Maharashtra. Devendra Fadnavis has proven to be a somnolent chief minister, if not a total dud. Despite a full term, he is unlikely to find himself on par with past chief ministers of Maharashtra in terms of personality or influence over the administration and the bureaucracy. That is true of Khattar in Haryana as well.
Perhaps this was in keeping with a certain design and expectation of the BJP high command, but it knows that a Thackeray at the helm for any length of time in Maharashtra will only strengthen the Sena at the expense of its saffron partner. The distrust is also apparent in the demand to put every detail in writing. The present standoff may end on expected lines for the BJP for the present, but Sena has made clear its ambitions for the future. If formula 2.5 is not accepted now, the next time round it may be a full five.