By Abhishek Jha:
Even as I write this, Sena emissaries are in discussion with the BJP over formation of a coalition. The BJP needs 23 seats to form a majority government in Maharashtra. It has been stalling any conclusive decision throughout the week, with the balance shifting both in favour and in opposition of a coalition. With a staggering 122 seats in the Maharashtra assembly, the BJP has at least proven its decision of fighting the elections independent of Shiv Sena, right. Banking on the Modi wave, BJP had decided to do away with the earlier seat sharing agreement with the Sena that prevented it from fielding candidates in all the constituencies. Although party leader Uddhav Thackeray had refused to comment on post-election partnership after BJP’s “back-stabbing”, the poll-results have forced him to reconsider his stance. A long hiatus from power now forces him to go mellow, and it is likely that he will buckle under the un-relenting stance of the new leadership of BJP to accept whatever the leading party has to offer. The BJP too- though it has the unconditional support of NCP and the hope of support from independents- might opt for a stable government by forming a coalition.
While one can only wait and watch these vacillations stabilise, it is important to consider what the “natural ally” has to offer. Cognisant of the independence that a non-coalition government enjoys, the only reason why BJP might not rebuffÂ its long-time partner, is the Hindutva vote bank that it has to offer. In addition, although the RSS may be saying it in equivocal terms, it has a reasonable presence in BJP for it to affect the decision. Non-compliance with the Sena’s demands and the dillydallying might then just be a tactical move to impress upon it the shift in power that has taken place in Maharashtra. Not having achieved a clear majority, a docile ally is the next best option that BJP has. However, it cannot do so without a slight resistance from the elected MLAs from Vidarbha, who cashed in heavily on the party’s support for a separate state for Vidarbha in the elections. Having said that, they might not have much of an influence over the party leadership which has managed to generate consensus over most issues with the muscle of Amit Shah. The BJP then has a gamble to play. If it does side with the Sena, it will have the huge burden of rationalising its decision to renege on its promise of a separate Vidarbha, where it has won a whopping 44 out of 62 seats. However meek Uddhav Thackeray becomes in demanding his share of seats, he won’t be able to concede to this demand, personal aspirations notwithstanding. This can be problematic for BJP if it forms an alliance. A minority government gives the BJP the advantage of keeping the Vidarbha electorate tantalised for another five years, while it develops the region (something at which the BJP might succeed) and mulls over a final decision on the re-organisation- which it may postpone until the next Assembly elections when it might have a clear majority.
For the people of Maharashtra, too, the coalition has little to offer. This holds even though the Shiv Sena has bagged the second spot. The 63 seats that it has won are spread all over Maharashtra and its only competitive performance was in the Mumbai-Pune region. That is to say that there is only a sporadic albeit reasonable support for it. Its only agenda that can attract the electorate is its alliance with Hindu nationalist principles, which has little importance in assembly elections. This was proven particularly in the by-elections in Bihar and U.P. where the BJP failed to perform despite the general elections having been recently concluded, where it had enjoyed a landslide victory. This also manifested in the people’s verdict in the 27 constituencies where Modi campaigned. The BJP and its allies could only win 10 of those seats. Even the Marathi speaking section that the Sena panders to, vouches for its ideologues because it sees a hope for its own development in the party’s victory. If the BJP offers them their due, the Sena’s clout is bound to shrink and yield to the pressures of an ambitious country that increasingly prefers its own material betterment over abstract principles. A coalition is only likely to detract the government from addressing the local issues of the people. Wanton vandalism hardly helps the poor.
An important facet is also the needs and aspirations of the people of Vidarbha. Callous negligence by previous governments has left the region in shambles. They have done little to address farmer-suicides and lack of development here. A mineral rich region, it could benefit from separation with Maharashtra, which uses all its resources for the development of the regions in the west. BJP is the only party that has consistently supported its wish to secede from Maharashtra for a better future, and the election results clearly re-affirm the people’s faith in the party to carry out its promise. They will wish that the party delivers and the only roadblock to it is the Sena.
While BJP did initiate the process of disjunction, it will be a lost gamble for both the party and the people of Maharashtra if it becomes diffident now and warms up to the Sena for a hassle-free ascent to power. Its hard-line stance backed by the unconditional support of NCP, on the other hand, will keep the Sena out of power for five more years, thereby only reducing its power and influence as its members get more tired of being not in power. This happening, the BJP will have the chance of further consolidating its position in Maharashtra. Moreover, the equivocal stance of the RSS should only help the leadership in making the decision appear reasonable to the Sangh Parivar.
It is unfortunate that a secular and non-polarising government isn’t available to the people of Maharashtra. However, while Modi’s style of governance and BJP’s ideologies continue to invite criticism, when the results have been declared, the people and its government have at least the opportunity of profiting from the benefits that the incumbent government can provide in the coming five years. In the far right, the people can only despair. And this, the BJP- which is riding on the people’s mandate- needs to take into account.