City Sunday

Maharashtra’s political tamasha

There have been far too many references by now to that eternal Mafiosi handbook called The Godfather, a corporate conspiracy for India’s financial capital and a masterful Bollywood potboiler to describe the political intrigue in Maharashtra. Yet truth be told boldly, it is pitiable, no well nigh abominable, that Indian democracy should now be talked about in terms of memes and social media humour. That the electoral process it is born of has been completely emaciated by the bullheaded charge of majoritarianism. That the people’s mandate has been subverted. That democracy has been disqualified or redefined as “might is right.” That constitutional laws like anti-defection have been scrapped from our conscience. And that the political class has simply replaced ideology with deal-making as its new brand equity. That propriety is not even stage-managed but brazenly squashed away as governance becomes the new marketplace for bartering naked ambitions. And a politician’s stock value is decided by the little black book each has in the cupboard.

How else could new BJP Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who had once been a whistleblower in the irrigation scam that implicated Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar (rebel or not?), join hands with him for a stable government? What about the morality of the Governor in rushing through protocols without proper verification of letters of support? Which daily soap scriptwriter could imagine that the 54 signatures of NCP MLAs, intended to guarantee the chief ministership of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, could be shanghaied to support Fadnavis? Who would believe that NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, an old warhorse and old schooler, is completely innocent?

As the BJP-Shiv Sena combine won a majority on sound electoral convention, it fell apart under the weight of Sena’s chief ministerial ambitions. The Opposition Congress-NCP alliance, which didn’t have enough numbers on its own, even crossed the ideological divide to set up a power-sharing front with the Sena in the name of saving Maharashtrians another round of election and respecting their legislators’ wishes to be a part of governance. And when even the second formation faltered, one from each side decided to settle the State’s destiny. All for the cause of farmers’ distress, something which ostensibly could not be tackled under President’s Rule. Each side has a justification for its pendulum swings. Only all their stories have blindsided the voter, who frighteningly is hostage to such perverse machinations despite seeing through the smokescreen of family wars, splits, ego battles and shadow-boxing.

All parties gained from this chapter of transactional politics. The BJP, which has turned to break Opposition parties and subsuming them into an art form, has, in the end, managed the numbers as claimed. After Karnataka, Goa and Arunachal, it has made mathematics the only virtue over morality. And surgical strike-style takeovers of States mean that it is bent on the single party narrative and manufactured homogeneity. It has even led people to believe that its shamelessness is a masterstroke. The Shiv Sena, with its stubbornness on chief ministership, must realise that it is dealing with a vindictive BJP and has been put in place for overreaching itself.

This is also a Sena without the magnetism of Bal Thackeray, who would have brought Mumbai to a halt at such profligacy. Uddhav is tepid by comparison and still looking shell-shocked. Holding on to his cadres from poachers would be creditable enough than throwing some agitprops. The Congress, for all its misadventure of attempting an ideological crossover with the Sena and keeping pace with the BJP’s aggression, may have just gotten saved in the nick of time from committing to something against its grain. In the end, everybody attributes the nation’s ills to it and it would not want to be seen as a greedy State player but remain a national party.

For Sharad Pawar, there is both gain and loss. As analysts across the board said this was the smartest “Pawar play” by him, is he the Maratha strongman who has fearlessly walked his path? With memories of his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi afresh and the latter praising him in Parliament, there’s speculation if the palace coup didn’t have his blessings. Whatever the differences over family fortune and legacy, nephew Ajit certainly doesn’t seem to have the gall to drive a revolt of this nature. Or is it that Pawar, for the sake of optics, may actually play a victim of Ajit, in a great game that he himself has orchestrated? If indeed he has done that, despite basing his electoral comeback on a strident anti-BJP plank as that party roguishly preyed on his camp and piled ED cases, he has lost his political stock. But ensured gains for his family, Ajit and daughter Supriya.

Assuming that Ajit has indeed upstaged him with the barons of Baramati, then that, too, is his swan song. It is just that campaigning in blinding rain, one didn’t expect him to be compromised. As for us, the Modi-Shah duo has killed the morning newspaper they hate, giving us a new headline even before we have picked it up. And the saddest moment in our polity is that everything becomes a precedent. And this one has dammed counter-currents, lest they become a democratic challenge. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).

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