Rasheeda Bhagat

Maharashtra politics transcends the bizarre

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on November 26, 2019 Published on November 26, 2019

Power play People’s vote undermined   -  PTI

The chaotic horse-trading in the State has reached new heights of absurdity, at the cost of India’s democratic ideals

The roller coaster ride in Maharashtra would have been a rollicking comedy, but for its tragic overtones. As the BJP, the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress play musical chairs — flouting all rules of the game — it is difficult to believe that we were once proud of our democracy. Yes, the aya Ram-gaya Ram culture was present, but it used to be an aberration, not the norm. But in recent years, after every election that doesn’t get a clear majority for a single party, the shameful saga of manipulation and horse-trading reaches a new low.

Take Goa in 2017, which threw up a hung Assembly with the Congress emerging the single-largest party, but it was the BJP that formed the government; or Karnataka in 2018, where the BJP emerged the single-largest party, but the government was formed by the Congress and the JD(S). The Congress, which had lost Goa the previous year, as its leadership snoozed and the BJP stole power from under its nose, was super active in Karnataka. The BJP had 104 seats, but fell short of the required 113; the Congress was second with 78 and Gowda and Co’s JD(S) got 38 seats. Before the BJP could shore up its numbers — by dubious means of course — a super-active Congress went with folded hands to the JD(S), and offered it the Chief Ministership despite having more than double the number of MLAs, just to keep the BJP out.

Within 14 months, the BJP and the unhappy Congress MLAs brought down the Karnataka government, and BJP’s BS Yediyurappa became Chief Minister.

Strange tactics

But the eccentricity in Karnataka politics goes back 13 years, and might just be a precursor of what is happening in the Sharad-Ajit Pawar camp. In 2006, the Congress-JD(S) government led by Dharam Singh fell as HD Kumarasamy took away a faction of his party and joined the BJP to form the government and become CM. His “shocked” father and former PM, Deve Gowda, took on a maun mode and communicated only through his aides and even “dismissed” his son from the party. But later, it was found that the “betrayal” was a master manipulation by Gowda himself to make his son CM. Alas, what won’t fathers do to make their sons CMs — or maybe uncles too, to crown their nephews deputy CMs — as might be the case in Maharashtra, as Sharad Pawar knows all the tricks in this trade.

This time, the mandate was clearly in favour of the pre-poll alliance NDA — the BJP (105 seats) and the Shiv Sena (56). But with the BJP not doing as spectacularly well as was expected, and the NCP-Congress alliance getting a surprisingly high 90 seats (46 for the NCP), Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackerary upped the ante and demanded a revolving or 50:50 Chief Ministership. Turned down by a miffed BJP, the saga of strange bed-partners began.

Unholy alliance

Proving yet again that nothing is impossible in politics, the Congress-NCP duo yanked off its “secular” mask double quick, and hectic moves began for this unholy alliance to come together to form the Maharashtra government. That is, until the BJP stole the senior Pawar’s nephew from right under his nose in a midnight coup and made him deputy CM before his uncle could smell the morning coffee!

On Monday, the saga moved to the Supreme Court and the suspense continued on who would actually form the government. The Congress spokesperson said it would be “the people’s government” soon. This gives birth to the question which “people”, among several others.

Will it be a government formed with a gun on the head of the protagonist (the junior Pawar), who had a mega corruption investigation initiated against him by the previous BJP-Sena government? If former Finance Minister P Chidambaram can rot in jail for months, how long would a corruption-tainted nephew (or even uncle for that matter) hold out? Did people expect the BJP, which returned to power earlier this year at the Centre with such a brute majority, to sit by and twiddle its thumbs while India’s most prestigious State, with the cash cow Mumbai, slips away from its empire? Did Sharad Pawar really meet PM Narendra Modi to discuss farmers’ distress, or to clear the dark clouds looming over his extended family?

The puzzle will be unscrambled in the coming days, but the taint on our democracy spreads. Is the use of money, muscle power, and the Enforcement Directorate going to be the new normal in forming governments in the States in the future? Or is it going to be even more bizarre, like a BJP-Congress government?

So what does is it make voters, including celebrities, who go with all fanfare to vote, flashing their inked finger on social media, feel like when their mandate is flung aside with such contempt? “We the idiots”, as a newspaper headline screamed on this issue?

Published on November 26, 2019

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