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Maharashtra Saga

Maharashtra Saga

Uddhav Thackeray was sworn in as Chief Minister of Maharashtra on November 28. The son of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s occupation of the Chief Minister’s chair ended an extraordinary drama that engulfed the country. A review of the saga requires a reflection to delve deeper into the roles of what this writer calls ‘The triangular trio’.

The Mumbai trio

By evening of 22nd November the Shiv Sena Chief, Uddhav Thackeray emerged as the consensus leader of the ‘Tripartite parties’. This alarmed the Delhi BJP top brass. Unless something was done swiftly India’s richest state would be out of their hands. With their blessing, Devendra Fadnavis met Ajit Pawar late night. It was a match fixing secretive ‘summit’. In all likelihood Fadnavis proposed the junior Pawar to be his Deputy. It is intelligently guessed that the ₹25,000-crore laundering case and the multi-crore irrigation scam figured prominently. A promise that the ED and other investigating agencies would go slow on the above cases was perhaps made.

Pawar handed the names of all 54 NCP MLAs with their signatures to the delighted Fadnavis. The next day t he NCP revealed that the signatures were in fact an attendance for the party meeting of the previous evening. With his letter of support to the BJP stating that his action had the knowledge of his uncle, the scheming Pawar attached the signed list of ‘his’ MLAs to make it appear that the MLAs were supporting the BJP to form the next government in the state.  

Armed with the letter Fadnavis approached the governor, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, to stake claim to form the next government. Koshyari was more than obliging to facilitate his former Chief Minister to fulfil his dream for a second term. The RSS veteran willingly accepted the documents to be genuine in intent and purpose. It must be kept in mind that prior to Fadnavis’ late night claim the governor had in his possession a letter from Uddhav Thackeray claiming the support of 166 MLAs. He biasedly saw the sudden claim of Fadnavis the better option. He urgently wrote to the Centre recommending end of President’s Rule pre or post-midnight. In state of being the head of state the governor acted as a mere puppet. He certainly could have waited for a bit longer to ensure his decision was a considered one. However, he agreed to be a key complicit party to the ‘midnight coup’. He has lowered the prestige of Raj Bhavan.

Meanwhile ‘WTFadnavis’, as one daily headlined, carried out the command of his bosses in New Delhi. He knew Ajit Pawar did not have Sharad Pawar on board. He knew it would be a herculean task for the revolting Pawar to effect a three fourth split in NCP. He knew he did not have the number. However, he decided to take the plunge. As he grabbed power thoughtlessly today he is called ‘the 80 hour Chief Minister’. He had to humiliatingly resign before even entering the State Assembly.

The Delhi trio

Now over to New Delhi! What followed was a well-coordinated midnight operation among the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and Rashtrapati Bhavan. Having received the ‘report’ from the Maharashtra governor, Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Shah decided to go for the kill to make lotus bloom again in Maharashtra. The duo, considered experts in installing BJP governments wherever there were hung Assemblies, blatantly and brazenly bypassed the well-established constitutional law of revoking President’s Rules only on recommendation of the Cabinet and instead invoked the rarely heard Rule 12 of the Allocation of Business Rules 1961 thus achieving their goal the shot cut way.

Rule 12 of the Allocation of Business Rules 1961 says that the Prime Minister can take a call on the matter to "meet a situation of extreme urgency or unforeseen contingency". Was the Maharashtra situation of extreme urgency and unforeseen contingency? To common sense it was not. The action reiterated the fact that duo have become the most powerful leaders in the country. The same pattern happened with abrogation of article 370. The Council of Ministers does not matter much. There is not one to question the power centres. Mahua Moitra has already warned us, ‘These are signs we are moving towards fascism and totalitarianism’. The two most powerful men swear by the Constitution but artfully apply loopholes in the same ‘Holy Book’ to their advantage.

The final draft to withdraw President’s Rule in the western state was now ready. Only the knot of the President was required. To speed up the process the First Citizen was woken up at 4 am. It did not warrant such urgency as it was no emergency. It was not a war, not a man-made or natural disaster, not even a break-down of law and order. It is a total disrespect for highest office betraying all norms of etiquette. Without much of a thought the President signed on the dotted line sans Cabinet’s recommendation. Presumably he never doubted of any unconstitutionality. The highest institution needs to play a more assured role rather than just fulfil the functions of a titular and nominal head.  

The ball was back in financial capital at dawn. With central rule lifted, the governor hurriedly and guardedly administered the oath of office to the second youngest Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis for a second term and Ajit Pawar as his deputy at 7.30/8.00 am on Nov 23. In western parts of the country the sun was just rising over the waters. Swearing in ceremony at sunrise? Never heard before! The totally unexpected development stunned not only the Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP and who had declared Uddhav Thackeray as CM-designate less than 24 hours earlier, but the whole nation as citizens woke up to the astonishing news. 

The Tripartite parties

Shiv Sena fought the Assembly election in alliance with the BJP. The combine won 161 (BJP 105 and Shiv Sena 56) seats, way ahead of the 145 majority mark. The pre-poll alliance completely broke down after the Sena insisted on 50-50 policy, including sharing the Chief Minister’s post on rational basis. As neither eyes blinked and the stipulated time for government formation likely to be crossed, President’s rule was imposed. To make the story short, an unlikely post poll Congress-NCP-Sena alliance was stitched to keep the BJP at bay. 

The BJP carried out a vicious campaign particularly against the NCP. But also the fight between the Congress and NCP on one hand and the Shiv Sena on the other hand was bitter. Ideologically the two are diametrically world apart. The Congress-NCP’s core ideology is supposedly secularism and inclusiveness. The Shiv Sena swears by Hindutva and Hindu Nationalism. The party strongly advocate the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Scenes of Shivsainiks assaulting ‘non-Maharashtrians’ still linger.  The present Chief Minister , Uddhav Thackeray had in 2013, said Nathuram Godse was a staunch patriot.

By aligning with the Army of Shivaji’, Congress in particular has made a paradigm departure from its core principles.  Secularism tag is now dropped. This was evident post Ayodhya judgment. No Congress leader spoke for the minority. It has not been established that Babri Masjid was built on a destroyed Hindu temple. Then how can a temple be ordered to be built on a demolished mosque? How can a secular court in a secular state commission the construction of a temple? If the disputed land in the ‘birth place’ of Ram belonged to Hindu groups it should have been handed over to rightful owner without ordering that a temple be built. After all it was an ownership law suit.

The Apex Court might have got Ayodhya wrong but in Maharashtra it got it right. It played fair and saved impending unimaginable chaos. Leaving its judgment on Maharashtra governor’s alleged “arbitrary and malafide actions” and the ‘unconstitutional revoking of President’s Rule’ at a later date, the Supreme Court ordered Fadnavis to prove his majority within 24 hours through an open ballot to ‘uphold the democratic values and foster constitutional morality and to prevent horse trading’. 

Now, what is the opinion on hotel/resort politics? Public representatives are supposed to be mature. However, in times of fractured mandate they look like kids willing to be huddled in a room. They appear fickle-minded ready to be traded like horse. They seem to be tempted by bribe. They act contrary to their conscience. They have no ideology and little loyalty. That is the reason why the Congress and NCP elected legislators had to be housed in a luxury hotel for fear of the BJP’s attractive offers.    

The drama has ended. We have a government in place. But is stability a far cry? Will the common minimum vision sufficient to sail the coalition through? Will contradictions in the t ripartite parties weigh the coalition down? Will a Karnataka like situation arise? Will the governor of Maharashtra and the big men in Delhi dramatize Maharashtra again?

(Published on 02nd December 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 49)