Opinion: BJP Betrays People's Mandate With Eknath Shinde As Chief Minister

To understand the meaning and implications of what the Bharatiya Janata Party has done in Maharashtra, with stunning immediate success but long-term ignominy, one has to look at the 'Shock and Awe' strategy the United States employed to invade Iraq in March 2003. In a blitzkrieg of the kind not seen since the end of the Second World War, American President George W. Bush, aided by Donald Rumsfeld, his tough-talking secretary of Defence, ordered the invasion of Iraq with massive military force. It immobilised Saddam Hussein's resistance and ultimately killed the Iraqi president in a humiliating manner.

Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade, the authors of this rapid dominance strategy describe it as a way of imposing "overwhelming level of Shock and Awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on ... [to] seize control of the environment and paralyze or so overload an adversary's perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy would be incapable of resistance at the tactical and strategic levels."

Now look at the eerie parallel this has with what Home Minister Amit Shah, aided by Devendra Fadnavis, did in Maharashtra. They hatched a plan to topple Uddhav Thackeray's three-party coalition government by breaking the Shiv Sena (NCP and Congress being its allies) with such lightning speed and overwhelming force that it completely paralysed his party and rendered it incapable of resistance. This 'Shock and Awe' attack led to something that seemed unimaginable even a fortnight ago - his resignation on June 29 and the swearing-in, a day later, of Eknath Shinde, the man who broke the Shiv Sena with the help of the BJP.

Their plan involved transporting, in the middle of the night on June 21, rebel MLAs of the Shiv Sena first to Gujarat and later to Assam, both being BJP-ruled states. Corruption (money power) and coercion (ED power) together ensured that a sufficiently large number of legislators became turncoats. This was 'kidnap politics' of the worst kind; the only difference in this case was that the kidnapped were in collusion with the kidnappers. The BJP had earlier carried out similar conspiracies, euphemistically called 'Operation Kamal', to topple Opposition-ruled governments in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and elsewhere. But nothing involved trickery of the level seen in Maharashtra. Not only the Governor's office but even the Supreme Court are seen by some as collaborators in the plot to topple Uddhav Thackeray's government.

There are two other ways in which the 'Shock and Awe' strategy in Iraq is relevant to know what has happened, and what could happen in the coming months, in Maharashtra. First, Bush's war, which killed close to a million people, was sought to be justified on the basis of a lie - that Saddam Hussein had amassed "weapons of mass destruction" (nuclear arsenal), which posed a threat to humanity. No WMDs were found either before or after the war.

In Maharashtra too, Fadnavis spoke a lie when he addressed the media on June 30, with Shinde sitting next to him, and justified toppling Thackeray's government. He said, "In 2019, the people of Maharashtra had given a decisive mandate to the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, which had fought the election together under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi-ji had declared during the election campaign that the Chief Minister would be from the BJP. However, the Shiv Sena under Uddhav Thackeray betrayed this mandate by joining hands with the NCP and Congress to form an illegitimate government."

This begets an important question which Fadnavis would be hard-pressed to answer: "If the understanding between the BJP and Shiv Sena in 2019 was that the Chief Minister would be from the BJP, then why has the BJP offered chief ministership to Shinde in 2022? Why didn't the BJP agree to Uddhav Thackeray becoming Chief Minister of a BJP-Sena government in 2019? After all, the Shiv Sena decided to walk away from the BJP only because of its claim that the BJP had agreed to give the Chief Ministership to its alliance partner."

We do not know about veracity of the claim and the counter-claim regarding the agreement between the BJP and the Sena when they fought the elections together in 2019. But one thing we do know for sure is that by making Shinde the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, the BJP has completely betrayed the mandate of the people of the state. Shinde does not carry a shred of legitimacy to be the leader of the government. He never had a support base beyond Thane, his home district. The BJP has installed a dummy Chief Minister who can be fully controlled by Fadnavis in Mumbai and remote-controlled by Shah in Delhi. It first carried out horse-trading on a scale rarely seen in India, and never in Maharashtra. Now it will do 'horse-riding' by commanding a Chief Minister who has become obedient to the point of being a vassal.

It is now crystal clear that after Modi's victory in 2014, the BJP decided to finish off the Shiv Sena as a major political force in Maharashtra and emerge as the sole challenger to the NCP-Congress combine. It has achieved its near-term objective by engineering a massive split in the Shiv Sena using Shinde and his accomplices in a sordid operation.

This brings us to the second parallel with the "Shock and Awe" strategy. The USA won the war in Iraq in the short term. However, by resorting to lies and chicanery to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, and by violating the UN charter, it lost its moral authority (or whatever was left of it) as a leader of democratic nations. Similarly, the BJP may gloat over the spectacular success of its machination to dislodge Uddhav Thackeray, NCP and Congress from power in Maharashtra. But, in the long term, this will severely erode the BJP's credibility (or whatever is left of it) as a party that can be trusted to adhere to the principles and values of constitutional democracy.

Those who think the Shiv Sena now stands decimated and Uddhav Thackeray's political career is over are clearly mistaken. He may have committed some lapses in keeping his party united, especially during the period when he was indisposed. But he gained considerable acclaim across the social and political spectrum because of his calm and competent leadership during the Covid crisis. Moreover, the murky manner in which his government has been ousted has deeply hurt the pride of 'Marathi Manoos' and the 'asmita' (socio-cultural ethos) of Maharashtra. Shinde will not last long in office. That is for sure. When that happens, it will be the BJP's turn to be shocked to witness the debris of a democratic edifice it conspiratorially demolished.

(The writer was an aide to India's former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.