Maharashtra: When politics is game theory

Many gamesters believe that Sharad Pawar, with a poker face, fixed Ajit, brought around Sonia Gandhi and convinced Uddhav of taking over as CM. He proved to be maestro political chess player

Maharashtra: When politics is game theory

Kumar Ketkar

Political roller-coaster rides in Maharashtra have foxed and flummoxed not only pundits but also the politicians themselves. It is not as if there has been resolution of all the issues that led to massive convulsions in one of the so-called progressive and well-off states. The first phase of uncertainty is over. But surely that does not mean that polity in the state has been stabilised.

How long will the government last? Nobody is sure. The portfolio distribution is always an awkward issue for all new governments. But in Maharashtra, it far more complex and, even vicious.

It is not just the “trust deficit” factor amongst the three parties. All the three parties are individually weak which ironically is also their strength. If anyone pulls the rug from under the feet of the coalition, all will fall. Also, if anyone of them changes the game by aligning with the BJP, that will bring about a new formation. However, that is easier said than actually carried out.

The anti-defection law requires two-third members of any party to split. This means if some elected legislators of the Shiv Sena are unhappy with the present arrangement, they will have to mobilise 35 disgruntled ones to split. Their elected strength is 56. Similarly, If the NCP has unhappy souls still sulking, then the number of such “sulkers” will have to be 34 to defect. If the Congress has such disruptive tendencies, they will have to have a score of 29 together to form a separate group. Their elected MLAs are 44. This is unlikely though in politics, nothing is impossible.

Political arithmetic does not adjust to the whims of opportunist politicians. The BJP has 105 MLAs. They require minimum 40 more to get just a simple majority of 145 in the house of 288. The BJP claims they have support of about 15 elected Independents. So they can reach 120. Even then they will require 25 more MLAs. They can get these 25 from any party among the three party-coalition. But the so-called Independents are free floaters.

The Independents are neither governed by any whip in the house nor any party high command diktats. No BJP Chief Minister would dare to risk his government by taking on board such loose cannons.

So far, only the Congress has shown patience and maturity. But that does not mean everything is hunky-dory in the party. There are dissatisfied and ambitious MLAs in the Congress too, but their overall clout and total number is too limited to play with such cliff hanging adventure.

There are quite a few in the Congress and outside, among the sympathisers of the party and also other secular liberals who are not reconciled to the idea of this coalition with Shiv Sena as numero uno! For them, ideology and legacy of the Congress are more important than joining the government. They see “future imperfect” by going with Shiv Sena.

For most in the NCP it is less a question if ideology, and more of power and stability, which they feel can come by aligning with the BJP. Their argument is that the power at the Centre is with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah-led BJP. Confronting them will be almost impossible as they ride the huge muscle and money juggernaut. They have also deployed “blackmail, intimidation and threat” as their strategic weapons. So it is better to buy peace with Modi-Shah regime, goes their argument. There are some in the Shiv Sena too who share similar apprehensions.

And yet the numbers in the Assembly have trapped all of them. They themselves are not sure, what the “Others” will do. No elected MLA of any party wants another election. Nobody is sure of victory again. And going by the current estimates, each candidate has spent anywhere between Rs 10 to 100 crore. As a result, they will have to play the games within this Assembly and only by juggling the numbers of the disgruntled ones.

The factor that awes and even frightens them is the widely believed skullduggery and “dirty tricks” of Amit Shah. It does not require much political acumen to believe that the BJP president will keep quiet. He is obviously angry and frustrated that his game miserably failed in Maharashtra. First, he had overestimated his own organisational skills, hyped up Narendra Modi’s appeal and believed in the support base of Devendra Fadanvis. But Shah and Modi are not politicians who give up. They are, one can be sure, plotting the second round of Roulette!

The first round boomeranged on them. Sharad Pawar proved to be smarter and shrewder. Over 51 newly elected NCP legislators sided with Sharad Pawar and supported the emerging coalition. Their support may not have come willingly, but the political arithmetic and Sharad Pawar’s stratagem forced them to sign up for Uddhav Thackreay’s chief ministership and the three-party coalition.

Also the intriguing dimension is who plotted the midnight coup of Fadanvis-Ajit and how was it executed? Why did they miscalculate? Or is it the trailer of the near future? How were the corruption cases against Ajit Pawar withdrawn? Ajitdada, despite the loss of face, of having had to resign just after 79 hours from the post of deputy CM, came back to uncle. Did he demand the number two position in the three-party coalition?

Many gamesters believe that Sharad Pawar, with a poker face, fixed Ajit, brought around Sonia Gandhi and convinced Uddhav of taking over as CM. He proved to be maestro political chess player. Even his detractors agree that without Pawar, the Uddhav-led government could not have come about. So Pawar checkmated Shah’s electoral moves first and then his cunning attempt to form BJP-Ajit-led NCP government was foiled. Till now, Pawar has proven to be a super-tactician as well as strategist who could bring the impossible players together even by double-crossing his nephew.

Who is to be trusted and who is to be suspected hereafter? Will Ajit Pawar, who apparently had worked out the alliance with Fadanvis, give up on his plans? Will Sharad Pawar be able to superimpose his politics over the coalition? Will Sonia Gandhi play second (even third) fiddle in the coalition? Will Uddhav be able to steer through? Will the BJP in the state keep hands folded when Uddhav cracks a whip on some mega and money-spinning schemes? What economic and other pressures will Modi government bring upon the state government? What will the embedded media do now?

The game theorists should answer these questions. If not anything else, that will facilitate operational algorithm!

(The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP)

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