One would never have believed before or even after the assembly elections that BJP in Maharashtra would meet its Waterloo so soon and would be defeated by its own ally the Shiv Sena.
In a day of quicksilver changes throughout Friday, even as Devendra Fadnavis tendered his resignation and continued as a caretaker chief minister, after a war of words and nerves over the past 15 days, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray continued to take the battle to the BJP camp and seemed dissatisfied with merely the scalping of Fadnavis.
However, even as President’s Rule stares at Maharashtra in the face, the BJP's muscle and money power is under challenge as it is finding it difficult to break MLAs from any political party including the Shiv Sena and Congress. And its arrogance seems to have come down a few notches as the combined opposition mocks the ruling party for its inability to repeat a Goa or a Manipur where it was not even the single largest party and yet managed to seize the government.
So, what has changed in Maharashtra where it is indeed the single largest party and logically should get the first crack at forming the government?
For one, all three leaders of the BJP – Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Fadnavis – were too cocky by far through the election campaign and failed to realise that Maharashtra's socialist ethos and its pioneering campaign for justice and equality over many centuries had not quite withered away into saffron majoritarianism over the past five years. The people voted for the weak and the meek, albeit in bits and pieces but together as a majority, thus skewering the game for the BJP, which had expected to reach the halfway mark quite on its own. It also attempted to decimate the Shiv Sena during the election which has not gone down too well with Shiv Sena workers who had and continue to have less animosity towards the Congress and NCP than towards the BJP.
Uddhav senses that this is his best window of opportunity to reverse the losses his party has incurred at the grassroots and is in no mood to relent over the demand for first crack at chief ministership of the state even as both Fadnavis and he called each other liars over their so-called arrangement for an equal share in posts and responsibilities at the time they forged an alliance for the Lok Sabha elections.
“I will not have any truck with anybody who calls me a liar,” said a combative Uddhav, lobbing the ball back in the BJP's court, saying, like NCP chief Sharad Pawar has been insisting, that it is the BJP's prerogative, as the single largest party, to form the government. The BJP has already been compelled to take a step back with Fadnavis' resignation but may have to step back further with both a written assurance to the Shiv Sena on the equal share in power and a change of guard in the CMO if the BJP does take office first.
For the distrust between Fadnavis and Uddhav seems complete and nothing else will do. Fadnavis, though, also seems to be a victim of the war of nerves between the RSS and the current top leadership in the
BJP. Fadhavis has been a complete puppet of Modi and Shah while in office but also has been quite cunning and adept at neutralising all his opponents and rivals within the party and those who might have posed a threat to him as chief minister. His rivalry with Union minister Nitin Gadkari in their home town of Nagpur is a well-known fact. Gadkari is the preferred favourite of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, who would prefer less of a Modi-Shah puppet in the CMO and one who would be more loyal to Nagpur than to New Delhi.
The resignation of Fadnavis is thus also being seen as a victory of Bhagwat over the Modi-Shah duo with indications that Gadkari could be an acceptable compromise candidate for chief minister on the pattern of the late Manohar Parrikar's repatriation to Goa as chief minister when he was Defence Minister in the previous Modi regime. Gadkari, however, has said he is not interested in returning to state politics though he may not be completely disinclined for the job.
Why Fadnavis may also have shut the door on his return is because of the increasing corroboration of Uddhav's statement that he had asked for an equal power sharing formula and had not been turned down on that request by the BJP. The first corroboration came from Gadkari who, unlike Fadnavis' flat denial that there was no mention of a 50-50 share in power, acknowledged the matter was indeed discussed between Shah and Uddhav but had remained inconclusive.
Ironically, the second corroboration came from Fadnavis himself – Uddhav has taken a leaf out of his cousin Raj Thackeray's book and begun to replay old videos to substantiate his assertions. One of these being circulated is a clip from his joint press conference with Fadnavis and Shah during the Lok Sabha polls when they announced their alliance wherein Fadnavis himself claims they had come to an arrangement for an equal share of posts and responsibilities and Shah is seen nodding in acquiescence.
With both the RSS and Shiv Sena gunning for him, Fadnavis seems to have come to the end of his rope as chief minister but the BJP has still not staked its claim. Modi and Shah might well prefer to have the new assembly placed in suspended animation and have the Governor administer the state to buy time to bring the Shiv Sena on board or buy up some support as they did so successfully in other states.
But even if they do manage to get their government on track within a few days, the fact remains that Maharashtra has defeated the Modi magic at the grassroots and Shah has been divested of his Chanakya status by an ally punching above its weight. Bolstered by moral support from the true Chanakya of India, Sharad Pawar, who has been Uddhav Thackeray's friend, philosopher and guide by default, through the aegis of Sena MP and Saamna editor Sanjay Raut, who has made no bones about where he gets his advice from. So, the political faultlines are now all interlinked barring the BJP's, which stands alone and somewhat frazzled round the edges.
As all eyes now focus on the Raj Bhavan, the BJP has a tough decision to take - should it risk losing a confidence vote or should it avoid such a PR disaster by not forming a minority government and allow others to cobble together a government, which is most certain to fall by the wayside.
It is a win-win for the Shiv Sena every which way – chief ministership, change of guard in BJP, a fall of a minority BJP government or a government with any other allies. It is, lose-lose for the BJP in every instance.