Eye on Maharashtra: Nitin Gadkari and Fadnavis discover virtues in following the law

A nudge from the Supreme Court might have prompted BJP leaders in Maharashtra to sing a different tune

Eye on Maharashtra: Nitin Gadkari and Fadnavis discover virtues in following the law

Sujata Anandan

I wonder if many people have noticed how, after bending the laws to their advantage in the displacement of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, both Nitin Gadkari and Devendra Fadnavis, the most prominent BJP leaders in the state, are now pontificating about following laws to a T.

Fadnavis last week said laws are important for a democracy and must be dutifully followed while Gadkari reiterated his faith in the judiciary and said they go by the book which is very important for justice and the preservation of democracy.

I thought that was rich coming from politicians who have sat silently on the sidelines watching the subversion of democracy by their top leaders for several years now and were never compelled to challenge this or protest. But their statements now have a context – the setting up of a Constitution Bench by the Supreme Court to look into the disqualification of the 16 Shiv Sena rebels sought by then chief minister and party leader Uddhav Thackeray. And, I think in this entire episode, Eknath Shinde and his supporters might have been taken for a ride.

For the Constitution Bench must go according to the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution and by that law these rebel MLAs could very well stand to be disqualified. That would immediately bar Shinde from the chief minister’s office if he is held as one of the disqualified members and bring the current government into a crisis. If the other 18 rebels who were signatories to Shinde’s letter to the Governor are similarly disqualified or return to the Uddhav Thackeray camp, whoever tries to take over from Shinde will be immediately rendered in a minority or then the state could be headed for a spell of President’s Rule.

I guess this is what Sharad Pawar, being described as the father of Chanakya in Maharashtra, had envisaged all along when he had activated his MLAs last week to gear up for mid-term polls. Even Uddhav Thackeray is now pushing for early elections, with polls to at least 20 local self-government bodies due in AugustSeptember. That is also why Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil is petitioning the state election commission for their postponement. For any election so close to this crisis would give the Shiv Sena the advantage of the sympathy against its betrayal and the BJP as well as the Shinde camp could be poorer.

But otherwise, the BJP is at an advantage. Any shaking up of the Shinde government by court rulings would keep their hands clean and both Fadnavis and Gadkari have already laid the ground for following the due course of the law. A spell of President’s Rule with the current Maharashtra Governor acting more in party interests than as a Constitutional authority, would allow Fadnavis to escape scrutiny for unpopular decisions.

With administration in the Governor’s hands and the grassroots with Uddhav Thackeray, where would that leave Shinde and his supporters?

Shinde has already not shown up too well to the people of Maharashtra. Many Maharashtrian intellectuals and those in civil society have been lamenting at the travesty of having to watch a chief minister who has to seek the permission of Fadnavis to stand and speak, has his mike snatched away from him when he attempts an independent answer or ties himself up in knots for his lack of articulation before the cameras.

All the while Devendra Fadnavis sitting beside him has been looking like the cat who got the cream, never mind that he did not really get the chief minister’s office again as he had wanted. If BJP supporters are to be believed, Fadnavis could yet again fall short of a formal stamp of the CMO because that is how his party leaders wish it.

Fadnavis supporters in Maharashtra are projecting him as the next prime minister for, deferring to the wishes of foreign powers who are increasingly expressing their reservations about Hindu extremism in India, the BJP-RSS might look for a softer personality than that of Amit Shah or Yogi Adityanath who see themselves as Modi’s successors. BJP workers say that is precisely why the central leadership is cutting Fadnavis down to size and they are also asking how soft or different is Fadnavis from the others when he has had 22 cases of rioting registered against him over the years.

However, whatever be the BJP’s internal party politics, it is a welcome change if their leaders, at least in Maharashtra, are holding up the law and willing to go by the book. The destabilisation of the MVA government, however, has come at an inopportune time for the farmers of the state who are reeling under excessive rains and floods in several districts. For while the administration has been put on alert, farmers have not been comforted in the manner in which they were by the previous government.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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