The current political stalemate in Maharashtra can make anyone cynical about where the state’s politics is headed. It is a perfect case study for applying game theory.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said Sunday it won’t form the government in Maharashtra at present because its ally Shiv Sena has “disrespected the mandate”, in what appeared to be an admission that it couldn’t reach an agreement with the Uddhav Thackeray-led party. Chandrakant Patil, Maharashtra BJP president, said his party extends “best wishes” to the Shiv Sena if it wants to go ahead and form the government with the help of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Both the BJP and the Shiv Sena held separate press conferences last week, accusing each other of deception and breaking trust, which clearly shows that nothing is right between the warring partners.
This also shows that everyone who predicted the outcome of the 2019 Maharashtra assembly election – a return of the Fadnavis-led government – has been proven wrong. For now, at least.
And so, some of the commentators have turned psychoanalysts, trying to guess who will win the tussle over the CM’s seat. From decoding Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s next step to figuring out whether NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Congress president Sonia Gandhi would be able to form a government, experts have left nothing to be imagined.
The opposition’s desire to sideline Devendra Fadnavis and the BJP’s ally Shiv Sena is so strong that even rivals like the Congress and the NCP are contemplating to jointly finalise their future course of action if the current deadlock continues.
There are some speculations that a cabal of BJP leaders wants to dislodge Devendra Fadnavis from his CM’s chair. So now the question of “Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri” has become a game of Roulette where an unknown wheel will determine the winner.
Mega confusion, game theory on display
Intriguingly, Maharashtra’s politics has become nothing short of a suspense thriller as all major players are keeping their friends and foes on their toes. Though Pawar met Sonia Gandhi on 4 November, it was not clear if they had any agreement. What exactly transpired between Amit Shah and Devendra Fadnavis was also kept under wraps. Moreover, what Sanjay Raut, executive editor of Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana, discussed with Sharad Pawar and what he wrote to Ajit Pawar on a text message will never be entirely revealed. They were all both friends and enemies at the same time. It was a perfect manifestation of game theory.
Game theory has been used by mathematicians, economists, and sociologists to determine the most likely outcomes when two or more players are engaged in situations of either competition or cooperation. How game theory operates in human relationships is magnificently illustrated in the famous play by Anthony Shaffer, “Sleuth”. In the play (later recreated by Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter), the relationship between the tormentor and the tormented takes bizarre and even sinister turns. The roles are reversed.
In Maharashtra’s politics, each player has different objectives and is constantly changing his or her partners and rivals. For instance, the BJP and the Shiv Sena have been allies for nearly three decades. Yet the distrust between them is often on full display.
From issues like farmers’ loan waivers to the construction of Mumbai metro rail and one of its parking sheds in the Aarey forest, the two saffron allies have on many occasions bitterly confronted each other. In 2012, then-Sena supremo Bal Thackeray endorsed Sushma Swaraj’s candidature for the PM’s post when Narendra Modi had not even emerged as the party’s preferred PM candidate. The Shiv Sena’s agitation against the Jaitapur nuclear power project and the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet train project was in contrast to the BJP’s position.
A love-hate relationship
The BJP and the Shiv Sena fought the 2014 Maharashtra assembly election independently even as they had contested the Lok Sabha election together just six months before. It was only when the BJP found that it is short of reaching the majority that the two parties came together to form the government. In the 2017 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation election that the Shiv Sena won, they were again rivals while being allies in the state government.
Like the players in game theory, the BJP-Shiv Sena relationship is either symbiotic or dialectical. “Hindutva” seems to be the only factor binding them ideologically.
Similarly, there are two “friendly” and “unfriendly” Congress parties: the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). They too competed against each other in the 2014 Maharashtra assembly election despite being allies in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The hostility between the two is such that the Congress often accuses the NCP of hobnobbing with the BJP. Indeed, even the Shiv Sena has resented the bonhomie between the NCP and the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has publicly said that Pawar has been his guru. Pawar too reciprocated by giving his “Shishya”, Modi, a grand welcome in his fiefdom of Baramati.
So in this game, there are two sets of alliance partners who have turned strident enemies. And the most interesting dimension is that the NCP has indicated its willingness to offer support to a Shiv Sena-led government with Congress offering outside support.
Shiv Sena’s difficult choice
The BJP was expecting a landslide victory in the assembly election and had hoped to marginalise the Shiv Sena. But Sena leaders were aware that the game was to “finish” them. So, the Sena and the BJP actively sabotaged each other’s candidates. However, the assembly election result clearly showed that Amit Shah’s strategies failed, crushing BJP and Fadnavis’ hopes.
As a result, insecurity of defections has shrouded political parties in Maharashtra. Each party is protecting its MLAs, more evident in Shiv Sena’s case, which has huddled all its MLAs in a hotel in Mumbai.
The BJP with its 105 seats will not be able to form the government unless it has the support of 40 more MLAs. Even as there is adequate support among the Congress members to side with the Shiv Sena, some, including the NCP, are demanding that the Sena should snap its relationship with the NDA.
Notwithstanding the bravado of Sanjay Raut, it is unlikely that the Sena would quit the NDA. And the Sena leadership knows well that it can’t afford to lose “protection” under the incumbent BJP-led central government.
Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena allying with the NCP and the Congress would result in self-harm. After all, the Sena too grew on the anti-Congress tide. It’s a classic case of the prisoner’s dilemma in game theory, where no MLA is sure of their own party’s colleagues and is either quietly defecting or succumbing to pressure.
Slide in Maharashtra’s political ethos
After inviting the BJP to form the government, the Maharashtra governor has now set a 7.30 pm Monday deadline for the Shiv Sena to make its “stand clear”.
Uddhav Thackeray can become the chief minister if he is able to assure the governor that he has the support of all NCP and Congress MLAs. But if the Modi government jumps the gun by saying that nobody has the majority (like in Jammu and Kashmir), then the only option would be the President’s Rule.
Would the Shiv Sena then take to the streets in its well-established style? Or would it agree to compromise? Whichever option the Sena takes, it is in danger of losing credibility.
Whatever course the politics takes in the state, the ethos of Maharashtra will not remain the same again. The foundation has cracked, caste alliances have broken, and the Maratha hegemony has collapsed. Neither the Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar nor RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat would be able to restore the socio-political and cultural balance of Maharashtra.
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.