Can it be said that, finally, the BJP has taken its revenge? It is naive to say - or assume - that the revolt by Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde, along with nearly 40 MLAs, is an "internal matter" of the Shiv Sena, as Sharad Pawar described it yesterday. No doubt Eknath Shinde was unhappy with the way he felt he was marginalised within his party but to believe that he is operating on his own is illusion. The BJP, led by Narendra Modi, is not a party that forgets and forgives any kind of 'betrayal'. The day the BJP failed to instal its government in Maharashtra after the 2019 assembly elections, it was clear that this day was to come. What is surprising is that it took more time than was expected.
The Shiv Sena and the BJP fought the 2019 election jointly. The BJP emerged as the single-largest party with 106 seats; the Shiv Sena had only 56. Together, they would have comfortably formed the government in the assembly of 288 seats. But then the Sena said that the post of Chief Minister should be shared between the partners, as discussed before the election. The BJP was not willing to oblige and it remained a mystery if such a deal was ever made. Thackeray felt cheated and he refused to extend any kind of support to the BJP.
The political drama continued for almost a month till, at the end of November 2019, the Shiv Sena decided to form the government with Sharad Pawar's NCP and Congress. Unlike his father, Bala Saheb Thackeray, who neither sought nor accepted any government office, Uddhav Thackeray became the Chief Minister and Shard Pawar played the role of political godfather to the most unlikeliest of alliances.
How desperate the BJP was to capture power in the financial capital of India was evident from the fact that Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari decided to revoke the present rule at midnight and at dawn, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in Chief Minister for a second term. This took place because Sharad Pawar's nephew, Ajit Pawar, had joined forces with the BJP. But Sharad Pawar managed to persuade him to return to their outfit and the BJP was left without the numbers it needed. Devendra Fadnavis had to resign within 48 hours and Sharad Pawar was hailed as a master strategist.
The battle was over but the war continued. It was difficult for PM Modi, Amit Shah and Devendra Fadnavis to swallow the fact that despite being so close to power, they had failed. The BJP also felt betrayed by its once most-trusted ally. The BJP and Shiv Sena were natural allies. Both believed in the politics of Hindutva and when the Babri Mosque was demolished by kar sewaks, Bala Saheb Thackeray proudly proclaimed that it was the work of Shiv Sainiks.
Together, they ran the government from 1993 to 1998. At that time, the Shiv Sena was the big brother and the BJP played the smaller role. After the demise of Bala Saheb Thackeray, the equation changed slowly, and in 2014, when the BJP won more seats than its partner, the Sena had no option but to let the BJP take the prize of Chief Minister. It was difficult for the Thackeray family to accept the reality. The working style of Devendra Fadnavis rubbed more salt on the wounded ego of the Thackerays.
The Shiv Sena also realised that the BJP led by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, unlike the version led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani, was a ruthless practitioner of power politics, and sooner or later it would dump the Shiv Sena and form a BJP government in Maharashtra. It knew the BJP was growing at its expense. No wonder that the Shiv Sena, under the leadership of the not-so-charismatic Uddhav Thackeray decided to seek support from the Congress and the NCP, who ideologically are at the other extreme.
That left the BJP with an axe to grind and Eknath Shinde was at hand to help out.
Eknath Shinde's revolt has demystified three things:
1. Leaders like Ganesh Naik, Chhagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray had deserted the Shiv Sena earlier, but no one was in a position like Eknath Shinde to engineer a vertical split in the party. If Eknath Shinde does have the support of nearly 40 MLAs (of a total of 57 Sena MLAs) as he claims, even if Thackeray govt survives the crisis, it is a serious blow to the Thackeray family and their invincibility within the party.
2. When the current alliance was formed in 2019, the sole credit was given to Sharad Pawar, the old warhorse. It was assumed that as long as he was on board, the alliance would survive. But now a crisis has enveloped the government and he has said it is an internal matter of the Shiv Sena. Has he washed his hands off the crisis? Or is he incapable of solving the crisis?
3. Congress MLAs were considered to be easy prey for the BJP but they are so far sticking together.
It seems that three things have caused this crisis:
1. Uddhav Thackeray's style of working is the biggest contributor. He is more bureaucratic than political, equally inaccessible to his own ministers and those from other parties, say his critics. He forgot that he was not heading a political party but a coalition government.
2. The Shiv Sena's confrontationist attitude vis-a-vis the Modi government. Ideally, Uddhav Thackeray should have made an effort to break the ice with Modi and should have developed a working relationship with the Prime Minister. The centre has also used a heavy hand in launching criminal investigations against ministers - an intimidatory tactic meant to encourage defections. Two minister, Anil Deshmukh and Nawab Malik, are in jail; a third Anil Parab, who has been interrogated by the Enforcement Directorate this week, is likely to be arrested.
3. The Thackeray government's failure to tame the bureaucracy has also proved its undoing. The bureaucracy is so porous that classified information reached Devendra Fadnavis' table faster than it reached the Chief Minister's office. Investigations against senior cops in Mumbai has created a trust deficit and the perception that the bureaucracy and government are at cross-purposes.
The Maharashtra government should have learnt from the demise of the Opposition governments in Karnataka and MP. They should have been more watchful. Knowing that the centre would use every agency and opportunity to destabilize the government, its leaders should have been focused on coordination and team action. The writing was on the wall.
(Ashutosh is author of 'Hindu Rashtra' and Editor, satyahindi.com.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.