The Sena overplayed its hand in Maharashtra, and a fresh poll seems the best course now
The political drama in Maharashtra that continued unabated since the Assembly election results on October 24 has been brought to an end, albeit temporarily, by the imposition of President’s rule. The Maharashtra verdict was unambiguous and in favour of the BJP-Shiv Sena pre-poll alliance, but the partners could not agree on the terms of power sharing, leading to prolonged haggling between them. The Sena’s claim for the Chief Minister’s post initially appeared to be brinkmanship to extract a hard bargain with the BJP but it tripped over its greed and intrigues. The Sena is the BJP’s oldest ally and both are bound by a competitive adherence to Hindutva. The Sena’s claim was also not justified by the verdict — it got 56 seats of the 288, while the BJP won nearly double that figure. The BJP, ensconced at the Centre and ever willing to use power to constrain its adversaries, did not relent. The Sena overplayed its hand by parting with the BJP and quitting the Union government. It miscalculated the alternative scenario of leading a State government with the support of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
The idea of a Congress-NCP-Sena coalition government is toxic. The NCP and Congress fought in alliance, and as Sharad Pawar said, got a mandate to sit in the Opposition. Post-poll coalitions are a legitimate route to government formation when the legislature is hung but the situation in Maharashtra is far from it. There were two pre-poll alliances, one got a clear majority and the other clearly lost. If the Congress and NCP want to keep the BJP out of power for ideological reasons, handing over power to a more virulent strain of Hindutva would be disingenuous. The formation of an NCP-Congress-Sena government, whatever may be its facade, will not only be a betrayal of the mandate but also be indefensible in ideological terms besides being suicidal tactically. Such an alliance, if at all formed, would not be stable or sustainable. All these parties will be rightly blamed for being opportunistic and devoid of political convictions. The BJP will be the sole beneficiary of such a thorough delegitimisation of the entire Opposition spectrum in Maharashtra. In the inevitable mid-term election that will happen sooner rather than later, opportunists will pay a price. The Congress and the NCP would be better off losing this opportunity and leave the birds of the same feather to potentially flock together again. That said, it was inexcusable of the Governor to not give the Sena or the NCP adequate time to explore the possibility of an alternative government. While a government without the BJP might lack moral or political legitimacy, the Governor should have exhausted all avenues before recommending President’s rule. The BJP must be hoping to pressure the Sena back into the alliance, but the best course now seems a fresh election.
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