After breaking his conspicuous silence on government formation in Maharashtra, BJP chief and Home Minister Amit Shah said, among other things, “If the Sena thinks it can revolt and get the people’s sympathy, they really don’t know the public”.
Between the four main parties in Maharashtra, the BJP is the only one, which seems to be thinking of public perception. And, politics is all about public perception.
After the Maharashtra assembly election results on 24 October, the Shiv Sena took a maximalist position as people often do to invite a negotiation. It demanded an equal share of power, including having a Shiv Sena chief minister for half the term.
For many days, speculation was rife that the Shiv Sena would eventually settle for the deputy chief minister’s chair, along with a few plum portfolios. But the experts were soon proved wrong, as the Shiv Sena’s talks with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) turned serious.
It’s now clear that BJP chief and Home Minister Amit Shah refused to negotiate, leaving the task to Devendra Fadnavis. All that was needed was for Amit Shah to visit Matoshree, the Shiv Sena family home in Bandra, and assuage the Thackeray ego. That is how he had sealed the Lok Sabha pre-poll alliance with the pesky ally.
For days after the 24 October results, the media kept speculating when Amit Shah would visit Matoshree. “In a peace move, Amit Shah may visit Sena Chief at Matoshree,” said one headline. “Talks only if Amit Shah visits Matoshree: Sena,” said another.
But Amit Shah stayed put in Delhi, leaving the Shiv Sena with no option but to talk to the NCP. In other words, Amit Shah left the Shiv Sena with two choices: stay on my terms or leave.
Amit Shah’s calculation
In public perception, the Shiv Sena, greedy for power, is not letting a popular Devendra Fadnavis become the Maharashtra CM. The people’s mandate was clearly for a BJP-Shiv Sena alliance government since the two parties had a pre-poll pact. And no, the public was not informed that Thackeray Senior or Junior would be the chief minister for half the term.
In public perception, the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress are being ideologically dishonest by coming together for power, and not for public welfare. All the talk about how money is a big factor in Maharashtra politics, how it is one of the richest states and losing it is a setback for the BJP only strengthen the case that the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress are coming together for a corruption merry-go-round.
It would be disastrous for the Congress’s already-poor image to support a party like the Shiv Sena, known for its history of communal violence. But Congress MLAs want to join this government, it is being said, and not just support it from outside. Why should they not have their share of the spoils?
If the BJP is made to sit in the opposition (along with two AIMIM MLAs) despite being the single-largest party in the Maharashtra assembly, it will seem like a setback for the party. But remember that Amit Shah has had ample time to prevent this, and has chosen not to.
If this government is formed, as seems imminent now, the question is how long will it survive. There will be constant bickering and nagging. Sanjay Raut will continue to entertain us with spicy Saamana editorials. Sharad Pawar will continue to be a man of intrigue. The desperate Congress party will do whatever it can to save its dhoti in the Mumbai floods until it falls into a manhole.
It will likely be Karnataka redux. When the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) managed to form the government against all odds in Karnataka, it was seen as a great tactical victory against the BJP. A defeat for Amit Shah. What came out of it? The BJP swept the Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka anyway, and the Congress MLAs ditched the ship to enable the BJP’s return to power in the state.
An alliance of two couldn’t survive in Karnataka. Here, it is a khichdi of three in Maharashtra.
Let us presume they manage to complete the term. That will give the BJP a good five years to play opposition, slap corruption allegations on all three parties, with more than a little help from the CBI, the ED, the CBDT and other allies.
The BJP will use this time to expand the party to try and win the 2024 elections in the state on its own, both Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha.
If the government falls — or there is no government formation and President’s rule gives way to snap polls — that’s even better for the BJP. It will be able to tell the public, look, these are the people responsible for the political instability. Look at these greedy people denying the BJP the people’s mandate.
In Indira Gandhi’s time, opposition politics came to be known as anti-Congressism. It didn’t succeed, and succeeded only briefly when Indira Gandhi’s regime carried out mass sterilisation drives.
Like anti-Congressism, the anti-BJPism of drawing-room opposition leaders won’t succeed because they think politics is about negotiations in the corridors of power, about who gets what portfolio.
This unnatural, unholy, unviable alliance will only help the BJP, in Maharashtra as well as nationally, because politics is about public perception and public perception alone.
That is how the BJP may be able to finish off the Shiv Sena in just a few years. (Some say, this is also Amit Shah’s strategy to weaken Devendra Fadnavis.)
Views are personal.