FINAL WORD IS OUT: BJP IS SHIV SENA’S BIG BROTHER IN MAHARASHTRA POLITICS

The article originally appeared on India Today.
Here it is bit modified and extended.

First the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, then the 2014 Maharashtra assembly polls and now the Maharashtra civic polls, they are point to this – that the ‘who is the big brother in Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in Maharastra’ story that began with the Maharashtra assembly polls in October 2014, has seen its climax in place now and we can say the BJP is going to be the ultimate big brother in a BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra, if indeed the alliance continues.

The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance has ruled India’s richest civic body Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for the last 20 years but both parties were contesting these Maharashtra civic polls separately. Their electoral rivalry saw both parties placing bitter allegations and using choices of words to paint each other in a negative light.

But in the end, the BJP has emerged as the clear winner, not only in the BMC where it is neck to neck with Shiv Sena in the final tally but in the overall tally of the Maharashtra civic polls. The BJP has won 471 seats in all 10 municipal corporations where polls were held, gaining majority in 8 out of 10. It is over two fold jump from BJP’s tally of 205 in 2012 Maharashtra civic polls.

And it is stellar in the BMC, from 31 in 2012 to 82 in 2017.

As per the information available so far as the counting is still on in some places, while Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are the biggest losers, crashing down from 529 seats in 2012 from 207 seats in 2012, Shiv Sena, too, has been given a rough treatment by the voters. The party had got 227 seats in the 2012 Maharashtra civic polls which stands at 215 now. And though it has claimed that the BJP has not gone up in the BMC at Shiv Sena’s expense, its marginal rise, from 75 seats in 2012 to 84 in 2017, is certainly not a consolation when seen in the context of the huge gains made by the BJP. Now, if the Shiv Sena has to continue with its run in the BMC, it will have to go with the BJP, who claims support of four independents, to cross the majority mark of 114 in 227 members strong BMC. And it will certainly be on BJP’s terms now.

But the Shiv Sena setback story had begun much before.

THE 2014 SCRIPT REPEATED

The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance for the Maharashtra civic polls got the same fate, in the same manner, as it had happened before the 2014 assembly polls. Based on its performance in the Lok Sabha and assembly polls in Maharashtra, the BJP was demanding 114 seats to contest out of BMC’s 227 seats and was not ready to go down below 105 seats. The Shiv Sena, citing 2012 BMC results, when the Shiv Sena had won 75 seats, contesting on 135 seats, more than double of the BJP’s score of 31 wins, refused to compromise. The BJP then had contested on 63 seats. The Shiv Sena didn’t accept the BJP’s demand and instead chose to split the alliance that was in place since 1997.

THE 2014 FIASCO

2014 saw the Shiv Sena splitting its decades old alliance with the BJP to save its ‘big brother’ status and then rejoining the BJP in a humiliating setback. Out of NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena, the biggest setback went to Shiv Sena. It was the biggest loser in spite of registering growth, in seats and in vote share.

For just 5 seats, the Shiv Sena lost the ‘big brother’ or senior ally tag in Maharashtra, and that too, by a huge margin. Though it was the second largest party in Maharashtra assembly, their 63 seats were nowhere near to the BJP’s 122 seats, given the fact that the BJP had been the junior partner of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and was ready to compromise even during the last assembly polls in October 2014, agreeing to contest on lesser number of seats than the Shiv Sena in the failed seat-sharing talks. The BJP, with 15 assembly constituencies, had won more seats even in Mumbai than the Shiv Sena’s 14 seats.

The BJP had performed exceedingly well in the Lok Sabha elections cornering maximum number of Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra that sends 48 members to the parliament and therefore its demand didn’t seem misplaced. In 2014 the LS polls, the BJP had won 23 seats with 27% vote share while the Shiv Sena had 18 seats with 21% vote share. It was a considerable improvement for both. The BJP had taken up its tally from 9 LS seats and 19% vote share in 2009 to 23 seats in 2014. The Shiv Sena also did very well taking up its tally from 10 seats to 18 seats with 17% vote share in 2009.

But the Shiv Sena’s performance was not at par with its junior ally of the past, when seen in comparison with the BJP’s rising graph in the state. Even in the perceived citadel of the Shiv Sena, in Mumbai, the BJP, with 15 assembly constituencies, won more seats that the Shiv Sena’s 14 in the 2014 assembly polls. In 2009 assembly polls, the junior partner of the alliance had won two seats more (46) than the Shiv Sena’s 44 seats. And when it simply outperformed everyone in the Lok Sabha polls registering 8% increase in vote share and over 150% increase in seats, it was right to expect for more.

The BJP had a symbolic edge over the Shiv Sena with 2009 assembly election results but the 2014 LS polls outcome placed it much ahead of all others, including the Shiv Sena. The Shiv Sena had to realize it and should have appreciated when the BJP didn’t ask for sky-high price for its electoral edge. But alleging the BJP of the ‘big brother’ attitude, the Shiv Sena refused to budge and the seat-sharing talks and thus the alliance collapsed.

THE HUMILIATING RETURN

The BJP went on to form the government in Maharashtra in 2014, even if it was 23 seats short of the majority mark in the 288-member strong Maharashtra assembly. The NCP offer of unconditional outside support had taken whatever sheen the Shiv Sena was left with in a post-election scenario of the hung assembly.

In the 2014 assembly polls, the BJP won more than what the Shiv Sena was offering, 119 seats. Had it been in the alliance, even if with 5 more seats, BJP would not have been able to win so many seats. What BJP was demanding was modest. What Shiv Sena’s refusal gave it was grand. And what Shiv Sena lost was grander, costing it the ‘senior alliance partner’ position, and the leverage in the national politics.

So much so, that in order to remain relevant in Maharashtra politics, the Shiv Sena had to compromise and join the Devendra Fadnavis government in December 2014. But the political flow since then shows their hearts could never meet. Even if it rejoined the alliance, the Shiv Sena always acted like a squabbling partner, always sparring in public with its pet line that ‘the BJP should not take the Shiv Sena’s support for granted’ and its ministers in the alliance government were always ready to submit their resignations. It shows the Shiv Sena could never make itself comfortable with the fact that it is now the BJP that will dictate the terms. Even today, a day that proved the meteoric rise of the BJP in Maharashtra politics, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray went on to claim that not just the next Mumbai mayor but even the next Maharashtra chief minister will be from the Shiv Sena.

©SantoshChaubey

WITHIN A WEEK, SHARAD PAWAR SPEAKS UP, AND WARNS BJP

It was to happen, and was just a matter of time.

It was a typical Sharad Pawar move, and after placing the cards initially, he transitioned to the next stage, stirring the elements of political opportunism to score the brownie points that were envisaged earlier.

Smelling the flavour, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party had announced unconditional support to BJP to form the government in Maharashtra after the assembly poll results on October 19. Though BJP emerged as the largest party, it was 23 seats short of the majority mark in the 288-member assembly and the talks with Shivsena were not making much headway apart from the routine newsmaking noise.

He reiterated his support on November 10, two days before the trust vote on November 12. He said, “We have made our position clear. We want stability. We cannot have elections again. We will ensure that there will be no instability”.

The ‘tacit’ understanding continued to sing the melody on November 12 when BJP played on the tune Pawar had in mind while Congress and Shivsena created din on the ‘murder of democracy’ after BJP won the controversial trust vote by ‘voice vote’.

Though, even after this, the BJP-Shivsena exercise to find a way in out of the logjam continued. But nothing concrete came out and Shivsena, being the second largest party in the assembly with 63 seats, bagged the opposition leader position as the deadline to do so approached.

Now, the ball was perfectly in Sharad Pawar’s court waiting to be played further by his next stroke. And the next stroke came within a week.

Sharad Pawar, the Congress man, who ‘rebelled’, left (or was expelled from) the Congress party, and formed his own political outfit, Nationalist Congress Party, on the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s Italian origin, soon took a comfortably opportunist political U-turn, entered in an alliance with Congress and formed government in Maharashtra in 1999. It is to be seen in the context that Pawar shared good relation with Pramod Mahajan and BJP-Shivsena combine was expecting NCP to join them after the fractured Maharashtra mandate in 1999. Instead, Pawar, in a move that has become trademark of his party’s political opportunism now, decided to go with Congress.

Though the notes were discordant all along the duration of the compromised love affair, from 1999 to 2014 in Maharashtra and from 2004 to 2014 in Delhi, it continued somehow, as long as the power looked within the visible range.

But Pawar and his party kept on playing, tactfully, the discordant notes all along, keeping its senior and parent party on tenterhooks. The NCP-Congress differences and war of words made for countless headlines. Sharad Pawar even issued grave threats to pull back. Also, his party had no reservations in praising Narendra Modi at times and showing positive inclinations towards BJP.

That was the typical political flavour of the times in India, customized and practiced the Sharad Pawar way – playing the good Samaritan of Indian politics – while keeping his eye centrally glued to furthering interests of his family. The corruption allegations against the Pawar family have the potential to open a Pandora’s box that may prove the ultimate nemesis. That has to be handled and warded away. And that requires one to be in ‘some’ position.

When it was written all over that Congress, UPA and NCP-Congress were not going to come back in power, it was logical that Sharad Pawar break away demanding parity in the ticket distribution process or any other reason for that matter. One of the calculations would be that NCP could emerge out as the kingmaker in case of a hung assembly scenario as the BJP-Sena alliance was also broken.

Pawar played his cards. BJP joined the game as it helped the party on dealing with Shivsena on its own terms. On the surface, the party which Narendra Modi named ‘Naturally Corrupt Party’, was not to be an ally. The spectacle of the ‘voice vote’ was to avoid this embarrassment only. It did keep Shivsena in check but it also made NCP the only choice BJP had, to prove the majority of its minority government, to have the leased life for six months, before which the BJP government’s majority cannot be put to test again.

And that placed Sharad Pawar on top. And he remains there, as of now, as the political developments of the moment are.

Shivsena is the principal opposition and Devendra Fadnavis, who raised the irrigation scam issue with central allegations focused on NCP state leadership and who is openly pro-Vidarbha (a separate Vidarbha state from Maharashtra), is heading the minority government of BJP.

Until BJP seals a deal with Shivsena to form an alliance, Sharad Pawar will remain an imperative for Devendra Fadnavis, a position that BJP would like to get away from as soon as possible. But, going by the political equations now, nothing can be said on that front.

And with it, he played his next stroke today.

It was time to flex muscles after BJP acted visibly-politically-detached on NCP’s offer, sending out the message that it was rather NCP’s compulsion to offer support to BJP.

And it came as a direct warning. Playing the good Samaritan, he deliberated on the political developments that BJP and Shivsena were still not able to stitch an alliance, a must for political stability. He said, “If the BJP and Shiv Sena had joined together, there could have been stability. However, that did not happen. If the situation continues like this for the next six months, it will be time for fresh Assembly elections. We are not obliged to ensure stability of the government.”

Within a week, Mr. Pawar has travelled from – We will ensure that there will be no instability. – to – We are not obliged to ensure stability of the government.

So, the onus is now on BJP. NCP has played it part (and its card). It may be just a rhetoric but coming from Sharad Pawar makes in unpredictable. And the possible predictability that BJP may choose to break NCP in case talks with Shivsena break completely and fail finally would certainly be in Sharad Pawar’s mind when he issued the warning.

Let’s see how BJP reads and interprets this warning.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

TWO OCTOBER 19 SUNDAYS: ARROGANT RAJ THACKERAY OF 2008 TO HUMBLED RAJ THACKERAY OF 2014

October 19, 2008, Sunday – Raj Thackeray was blamed for inciting the mob of his partymen. He had been crying loud and talking provocative against the people he considered ‘outsiders’ in Maharashtra who had become parasitic on Marathi Manoos.

North Indian students in Mumbai to take a Railways recruitment exam were targeted and beaten by the members of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) led by Raj Thackeray. It was one of the most ghastly acts of political ‘goondaism’ unleashed by MNS and its ‘political’ hooligans. Means of public transport including trains were hit hard. Raj Thackeray was shouting and sloganeering, from over the top. His brandishing of the ‘Marathi Manoos’ sword was getting harsher and harsher. And it was not just in Mumbai. The goons were operationalized in areas where MNS had impact and where MNS had wanted to create a constituency of its own exploiting the Marathi sentiments of the Marathi votebank. The arrogance and disregard to the democratic values were reeking.

October 19, 2014, Sunday – No one was where Raj Thackeray was. It could not be said with ‘a degree of newsworthiness’ if he was sought at all yesterday, or even today.

Yes, he was making for headlines with his anti-North Indian rant while campaigning for the Maharashtra assembly polls. His interviews were carried where he spoke in his trademark ways that we had been watching since his separate advent on Maharashtra political scene after leaving his uncle Bal Thackeray and Shiv Sena he wanted to head after the senior Thackeray. His sky-high ego was brought down in a grand way yesterday when his ‘style of politics’ was rejected by the voters and his party was crushed mercilessly by the electorate. It was just yesterday when Raj Thackeray was being discussed as a possible kingmaker in Maharashtra politics. And today, he is staring at total annihilation of his political life with his party shrunk to just one assembly seat and a vote share of just 3%, down from 13 seats and around 12% voter share in 2009.

From an October Sunday in 2008 to an October Sunday of 2014 – on 19th of October – ironies of day, date and fate – that have forced Raj Thackeray to hide behind his shattered arrogance, the shield of which is already fragmented.

Raj Thackeray may not be able to hide in his own layer with such a fragmented shield of humiliated arrogance, but no one is seeking him either, at the moment, not even his Marathi Manoos, who played a significant role in hunting and humbling him down.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

AS EXPECTED, MAHARASHTRA’S EXISTING POLITICAL ALLIANCES ARE OVER (FOR NOW)

All this was expected, waiting to happen, and as the time was running out, today was the day, when it had to happen, as the last day of filing nominations for the October 15 Maharashtra assembly election is just on the day after tomorrow, on September 27, a day when prime minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly during his much talked about official America trip.

The four major political parties of Maharashtra, Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena and Bhartiya Janata Party, are going to contest the upcoming assembly polls separately (as of now).

We had two pressers today, by the BJP and the NCP, announcing the split. Representatives of both the parties said they tried hard to save the alliance. Likewise was the reaction from their ’till the last moment’ alliance partners.

The Mahayuti is no longer existent (as of now). The Congress-NCP Combine had its life till today.

Anyway, there is nothing much to read into that. After Congress’ humiliating loss and miserable strength in the Lok Sabha elections and the BJP’s stupendous (and unexpectedly overwhelming) show, it was written all over.

Sharad Pawar had issued warning to its senior partner immediately after the May 16 General Elections results that Congress needed to accept the reality and had to give more space to the NCP now. Though the BJP did not issue such explicit warnings, the messages and the feelers were always sent out. Congress’ two Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra were half of the NCP’s four while the BJP was five seats ahead of Shiv Sena’s 18 MPs. Also, nationally, the party had won majority on its own.

It was also that there were emphatic voices in all the camps against breaking the alliances. The issue being dragged for so long tells us. While writing this, Congress is reacting on with its presser being addressed by the Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan while Shiv Sena is expected to come with its formal response tomorrow.

There are already talks of further alliances and deals. Political theories and hypotheses are going to be the high talking points. But that will be tomorrow onwards (including the possibilities of reversals, if any!).

There were many who, in all the four political outfits, were thinking to test the waters separately after long periods of alliances. NCP-Congress alliance was 15 years old while Shiv Sena-BJP combine has had history of a quarter of Century with it.

Fighting polls together for so many years kept them away from assessing their power and their influence separately on their constituencies across the state. It was hard to say who wielded what influence across the state. It had become difficult for them to assess their situation in terms of real political growth; in terms of gaining and expanding the political ground.

Traditionally, as Congress and Shiv Sena were the senior partners of their respective alliances and had larger presence and a long history in the state, the assessment was not so imperative for them. But it could never have been so with the NCP and the BJP.

Though, the NCP was formed from the breakaway faction of Maharashtra Congress by Sharad Pawar, a major political figure in the state, its beginning was not smooth and the party was forced to join hands with Congress in the very first year, when the Combine had its first government in 1999. The Shiv Sena-BJP Combine has failed to form the government after 1995.

The status quo was maintainable as long as the status remained more or less unchanged – circumstances predicting continuation of the Congress-NCP government.

That was not so this time. Every survey predicted overwhelming victory for the Shiv Sena-BJP combine quoting the Modi Wave being the major factor after BJP emerging with more seats and an impressive performance in the state. The natural corollary to it was the doomed fate for Congress, an electoral rout, like it had in the Lok Sabha elections. So, the senior partners were no longer in the positions to claim their political seniority in the state.

And these equations gave the BJP and the NCP the leveraging power to bargain to have more seats to contest in the elections as well as the aspirations to go solo to assess and realize their own political ground.

As the bargaining could not come with the results expected, the voices advocating the ‘going solo’ mantra grew more and more demanding, and it ultimately got the upper hand today when the BJP and the NCP, one after the other, announced to walk out of their respective coalitions.

So, it’s an open political sky and a free electoral battleground in Maharashtra tomorrow onwards. And it has the potential of throwing in some U-turns.

It’s going to be interesting, for the Pundits, and for the observers.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/