What happened when the ruling political party felt “betrayed” by its own ally? It decided to flex its muscles and engineer an overnight coup.
What the Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra has done goes against the grain of democratic politics. By supporting it and anointing a minority government, the governor has told the people that democracy is not what really matters here.
Until Friday evening, an unlikely alliance between primary opposition parties had taken shape. Leaders of all three parties were supposed to meet the governor to stake claim to form government. But that was not to be, as the BJP-led Centre rushed to revoke president’s rule in the state at 5:47 am today, and within hours got the governor to appoint Devendra Fadnavis as the chief minister and Nationalist Congress Party renegade Ajit Pawar as the deputy chief minister..
Only a few days ago, Fadnavis had categorically stated that he doesn’t have the numbers to form government. Throughout the campaign, senior BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, kept their pitch high against the NCP, the party which it now relies upon to prove majority.
Fadnavis had in fact gone a step ahead to say that his party will never ever ally with the “corrupt” NCP.
BJP will never, never, never have any alliance with NCP. Rumours are motivated. We exposed their corruption in assembly. Others were silent.
— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) September 26, 2014
As the Shiv Sena looked towards Congress-NCP for support, the BJP remained completely non-transparent about its backroom efforts to form the government. It rather chose to attack the opposition alliance as “unholy” and “opportunistic”, even as it knew that the combine was well placed to form a majority government.
However, now while the electorate was expecting a new government, the BJP has decided to take it for a ride. Even as Fadnavis was sworn-in, numerous questions remain unanswered.
Does Fadnavis have enough numbers to prove a majority? If Sharad Pawar, the NCP chief, says that Ajit Pawar’s defection was independent of the party’s stance, then how many NCP MLAs are supporting Ajit? Did Fadnavis and Ajit stake claim? If yes, when? And why didn’t the governor choose to inform the public about this new development before swearing them in?
Most importantly, why did the BJP show no interest in forming the government after its ally Shiv Sena decided to pull out of the pre-poll alliance? After all, Fadnavis tendered his resignation as the chief minister when he could not muster enough numbers.
The BJP may argue that it was “backstabbed” by the Shiv Sena, and the Shiv Sena may say the same against the BJP. But the BJP’s surreptitious takeover of the state can only be justified if there is a general consensus that feudal instincts instead of democratic norms are the central linings of Indian politics, and that holding on to power is the endgame. If that is so, the ruling party will be destined to win in any scenario.
As political drama over government formation unfolded over the last month, political observers agreed that the BJP-Shiv Sena had the mandate to form the government. Both the Congress and NCP stated that their mandate was to sit in the opposition.
However, once the BJP and Shiv Sena could not find common ground, the ball was clearly in the opposition’s court. The three parties worked out a legitimate alliance despite their ideological mismatch, and should have been given a chance to form the government as per democratic norms.
Instead, the BJP engineered a secretive coup to get the governor’s office to install its own minority government, and opened the state for aggressive horse-trading.
In their obsession with power, Modi and Shah have exposed their party’s double standards for everyone to see.
Questions for the governor
Bhagat Singh Koshiyari gave the BJP, the single largest party, almost a fortnight to stake claim. However, he did not deem it fit to allow even 48 hours to the Shiv Sena and NCP to gather a majority. The Congress was not even given this chance.
The governor instead recommended that president’s rule be imposed under the pretext that no party or formation was in a position to form the government, even as the opposition parties were in the last stages of talks.
On Saturday morning, he presided over a swearing-in ceremony about which the people of Maharashtra had absolutely no clue.
Let us be clear. The BJP did not stake claim until late Friday evening. The governor did not invite the BJP to form government. The letters of support from MLAs were not made public by the Raj Bhawan. Now the NCP claims that Ajit Pawar may have given a false letter of support from the party MLAs to the governor.
On the other hand, the opposition alliance was placed well to form a government.
In effect, the governor has opened Maharashtra’s political ground for aggressive horse-trading, in which the BJP may launch yet another “Operation Lotus”.
By sabotaging opposition efforts at the last minute and keeping people in the dark, the ruling BJP has not merely bulldozed democratic political process, but also sent out a strong signal: the underdog will henceforth be crushed.