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Issue No.: 570 | December 2014
 

Maharashtra: Have the BJP and the Shiv Sena Missed the Mandate?

Nitin G. Raut
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In the recently concluded Assembly elections while the BJP’s victory in Haryana was complete and convincing it failed to secure an overall majority in Maharashtra though emerging as the largest single party with 122 seats in a House of 288 in the Maharashtra Assembly.

Maharashtra politics is complex and an enigma. Apart from the Congress – an umbrella for power seekers – there was also a significant presence of socialists and Hindu nationalist schools of thought in the state but their influence was limited, scattered, and isolated. The socialists comprising the erstwhile Praja Socialist Party and Samyukta Society Party were nursed by stalwarts, like H. V. Kamath, Nath Pai, S. M. Joshi, N. G. Goray, who made a mark as parliamentarians and leaders with a national impact. But as a mass movement, it hardly had any force and were nowhere in sight of power. It was only as a constituent of the Janata Party that the socialists were elected in large numbers and earlier during the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement.

Maharashtra in a way is also the birthplace of Hindu nationalism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the RSS was founded by Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar in Nagpur in 1925 and is today the largest Hindu organisation in the country. It has a nation-wide presence though sparsely in the northeast and states like West Bengal and Tamilnadu. The erstwhile Jan Sangh and today the BJP cannot deny ideological links with the RSS. Five out of the seven Sarsanghchalaks (Head or Supreme Leader) of the RSS are from Maharashtra. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was one of the founders of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha. As an ideologue and author, Savarkar’s thinking and books continue to be the guiding light and influence on Hindu nationalist thought. The Hindu Mahasabha had a significant presence at the time of pre- independence in the erstwhile Madhya Bharat and to some extent in Maharashtra and even in West Bengal. But post- independence the Hindu Mahasabha is in political oblivion. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, another Hindu icon was also born in Maharashtra.

However, the influence of these schools of thought was limited and it never yielded electoral dividends. It was only after 1989 with the BJP-Shiv Sena [SS] alliance that these two parties started making headway. However, Maharashtra never became a stronghold of the BJP like the Communists in West Bengal or Kerala.

Breaking the Dominance of the Marathas

In the 60s, the Congress Party under the leadership of the Maratha strongman Y. B. Chavan started the co- operative movement in Maharashtra. The Congressmen formed Co-operatives in banking, sugar manufacturing and marketing, credit, cotton mills - which provided Maharashtra Congressmen the financial clout to control their fiefdoms which in turn ensured captive vote banks. A network of educational institutions controlled by Congressmen assured captive voters in their areas. The co-operative movement also came to be dominated by Marathas (42%) who form the backbone of the Indian National Congress (INC) and Nationalisit Congress Party in Western Maharashtra. From Ahmednagar down to Kolhapur became the impregnable bastion of the NCP who came to dominate Maharashtra politics with their money power.

It is against this backdrop that the BJP’s victory, though short of majority, is still spectacular in spite of the split in the BJP-SS alliance and the failure of a post- poll alliance. The defeat of the IC and the NCP has for the first time yielded space to the saffron parties – the BJP and the SS. It is a tectonic shift in the balance of political power in Maharashtra. But has the BJP and the SS decoded the message of the Modi crafted victory?

Short-sighted Moves

The uncertainty has provided the wily Maharashtra leader of the NCP, Sharad Pawar, a playing field for political Machiavellianism and it would not be surprising if Pawar does to the BJP what Indira Gandhi did to Charan Singh who after being installed as Prime Minister, she pulled the rug. For the BJP to flirt with Nationalist Congress Party is to raise the obvious question of aligning with the "Naturally Corrupt Party”, as the Prime Minister called it. The BJP has sworn to expose the NCP’s irrigation scam. Therefore, Sharad Pawar’s declaration of support to the BJP, even while the counting was on, raises serious questions of a secret deal. It would require incredible naivety to think that it is more than crass opportunism. Even if the BJP is silent on Pawar’s support, its failure to reject it, is bound to dent BJP’s image and its anti-corruption campaign and may have an adverse impact in the forthcoming elections to the Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir and Jharkhand Assemblies.

It is against this backdrop that the BJP’s victory, though short of majority, is still spectacular in spite of the split in the BJP-SS alliance and the failure of a post- poll alliance. The defeat of the IC and the NCP has for the first time yielded space to the saffron parties – the BJP and the SS. It is a tectonic shift in the balance of political power in Maharashtra. But has the BJP and the SS decoded the message of the Modi crafted victory?

Maharashtra is debt ridden with a debt burden of Rs.3 Lakh Crore. The law and order situation is in poor shape. Farmers’ suicides are rampant. The infrastructure in prime metros like Mumbai is pathetic. The present scenario is none too comforting. For the BJP to provide stability and development is of prime importance. It is in this context that a BJP–SS alliance is imperative. Both parties fail to understand that it is the anti-corruption plank that catapulted them to a majority and by futile bickering it will make the INC relevant in the same way as the Janata Party feuds in 1977-78 ensured INC’s return.

The breakup of the BJP–SS alliance does not augur well for the stability and development of the state. It was not the state unit of BJP or the SS, but it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma that was responsible for ousting the IC. It was a mandate against corruption and for development that ensured BJP and SS getting 122 and 63 seats respectively. This election also pulled down the walls of social and caste barriers which are as bad as the physical Berlin Wall which divided the same people. In the post- Mandal era, where caste politics ruled, it was unthinkable for a party like the BJP to ever dent the INC bastions of the Jat dominated Haryana and Maratha dominated Maharashtra. It is development that the voters aspire for and any instability in Maharashtra because of the BJP - SS standoff will be a political hara-kiri for the BJP. On the one hand, the BJP has the support of the NCP, an unreliable party, on the other, it will have to contend with a hostile friend turned implacable foe in the Shiv Sena. This is bound to affect the administration and development agenda.
Is Maharashtra a case of mandate misread by both the BJP and the SS ?

NITIN G. RAUT is an advocate by profession and a member of the Advisory Board of Freedom First. Email:nitingraut@gmail.com

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