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Maharashtra: BJP wins the battle, can it win the war?

Last updated on: November 13, 2014 13:37 IST

Devendra Fadnavis and other BJP leaders arrive for the trust vote

Maharashtra politics is at the crossroads. Anything can happen in this dynamic situation.

Sheela Bhatt/ analyses the situation arising from the Maharashtra trust vote on Wednesday.

Maharashtra politics is all set to become a test case to study the weaknesses and strengths of politics as practised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The clever ways in which Modi and his party chief Amit Shah play the game in New Delhi and in the states is there for all to see in Mumbai. Their political manoeuvring has shaken off old structures and has brought the Bharatiya Janata Party to prime position in a crucial state like Maharashtra. But, at the same time, the BJP is perpetuating the old Congress-nurtured tricks of Indian politics.

Hindi journalist Ajeet Dwivedi put it aptly, that, “Modi can’t make India Congress-mukt (free). The name of the system under which he is functioning and succeeding stunningly is called the ‘Congress’. (Delhi ki system ka naam Congress hai). No Indian PM can get rid of it.”

The tricks of the political trade in the Congress era was to win by hook or crook. Remember how the Lokpal bill was not passed amidst din in the Rajya Sabha?

As veteran journalist Olga Tellis wrote in the Deccan Chronicle, 'The BJP has won the vote of confidence by a surprise voice vote. It is a Pyrrhic victory, with the help of the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party. Remember, during the election campaign the prime minister had called the NCP the Naturally Corrupt Party!'

Today, inside the state assembly, the Shiv Sena created chaos thinking they will not allow the proceedings to continue. Rowdy elements were ready to disrupt and spoil the day. But the BJP played its counter move swiftly. Even as allegations swirled fast and furious that it never had a legislative majority needed to sail through the trust vote and had developed cold feet, it took advantage of the din and opted for a voice vote, stunning the disruptors. The ruckus inside the assembly proved that there was no floor coordination between the Sena and the Congress to take on the BJP. The Sena found itself rudderless.

The BJP government led by Devendra Fadnavis showed that it was fully prepared. In a pre-planned move it checkmated the Sena and the Congress. The BJP came prepared for the Sena’s rowdy ways. Its rush to get the trust vote done with was shrewd but its tactics inside the assembly are questionable. Fadnavis now has six months to set the house in order. Six months is a huge advantage for the BJP to blunt the aggression of the Shiv Sena.

Is the trust vote won by the BJP legal?

Constitution expert Subhash Kashyap explained to, “If the protest against the voice vote was made to the speaker after he declared that 'the motion has been passed’, then it’s of no use.”

Kashyap says, “The law says that even if one member of the assembly demands a division of votes the speaker has no option but go in for voting. But, when the speaker says ‘those in favour say aye and those in favour say no’ and when he finds the ‘ayes’ have it and if he, accordingly, declares that the ‘ayes have it and the motion has been passed’, then it is final.”

Because of the din created by Shiv Sena those present at the scene may not have been able to decide, conclusively, if any member of the Shiv Sena or Congress rushed to demand a division of votes before the newly-elected Speaker Haribhau Bagde said the motion had been passed.

A PTI correspondent narrates the sequence of event thus: "As the legislators supporting the motion exclaimed ‘aye’, the speaker declared it passed, triggering a storm of protest among Shiv Sena and Congress MLAs, who rushed to the well of the house.”

The PTI report further says: "Bagde was heard saying over the din that the motion has been passed.” Agitated MLAs of the Shiv Sena and Congress were seen arguing with him "even as the decibel level rose steadily, forcing him to adjourn proceedings.”

“If the Sena and Congress were arguing with Bagde after the motion was passed it has no value,” says Kashyap. He adds that the voice vote as such is not illegal and 98 per cent of motions are passed by voice vote.

However, winning the trust vote was the forgone conclusion for the BJP. In the assembly which has an effective strength of 287, the BJP has 121. The support of the NCP’s 41 MLAs was not in doubt. That takes their tally to 162 MLAs (well past the halfway mark). What is baffling is, why didn't the BJP muster courage to go for a division of votes? That exposes the vulnerability of its strategy in Maharashtra. It’s now sailing against stiff opposition from the Shiv Sena.

Talking to, Meenal Baghel, editor-in-chief of Mumbai Mirror, says, "The BJP and Shiv Sena have displayed the worst kind of brinksmanship, turning a good strong mandate into a muddied affair. People are looking for a clean start from Fadnavis and not this.”

The BJP’s gamble has been two-fold. One, it wanted to expose the Shiv Sena in the post-Bal Thackeray era. The controversy that started since the tussle over seat-sharing is actually a two-line story. The new BJP under Modi wants to tell the Shiv Sena in Mumbai that 'Uddhav is no Bal Thackeray. Talk to the BJP on equal terms.' Uddhav was just not getting the message right, thinks the BJP.

But those who sympathise with him argue, “In this election, Amit Shah has trounced the Sena’s ego. Uddhav may not be fitting into Balasaheb’s shoes. But Shah has given him a lifeline, so desperately needed by the Thackeray dynasty, by treating him in this fashion."

It’s do or die for Uddhav. He could not show better results than the BJP in the elections and the BJP's aggressive but so far well-synchronised tactics are demoralising the Sena cadre. The Sena is on a weak wicket also because of Pawar’s clear stand to support the BJP. Pawar, whose party's future is bleak right now, has nothing to lose by extending unconditional support to the BJP.

Uddhav’s predicament will begin when he will have to take an extreme line on Hindutva issues. Have Maharashtrians changed or not? Will the Marathi youth accept the Bal Thackeray brand of extreme language? Is it saleable now when the buzz all over India is for power, roads, education and health?

The election results have shown that the Marathi youth has gone the whole hog with Modi. If Uddhav takes the Marathi asmita (pride) plank, the BJP will counter it through administrative measures. Fadnavis, himself a Marathi Brahmin from Nagpur, will be making Marathi language the centre-point of his education policy.

The BJP will use the electronic media to counter the rowdy game-plan, if any, of the Sainiks to obstruct governance. Law and order will be a casualty if the political parties clash for power but the young chief minister is likely to get the backing of New Delhi to take tough measures.

On the other hand, the BJP has worries too. They have let go of the comfortable option of settling down with the Sena, and stand to lose a two-third majority in a joint session of Parliament, if and when it is held. In the process of cutting the Sena down to size, the Modi-Shah duo has created a robust opposition for the party.

If the grand plan for Maharashtra doesn't proceed as intended, questions will be asked if the Shiv Sena could have been handled better. In fact, the BJP's state leaders tell media-persons in private that they should not be hurling charges against the NCP leaders because the Shiv Sena was not above board on the issue of corruption and their leaders’ image is not better than that of the NCP leaders. But the BJP can’t take shelter under this argument even if it's true because it partnered the Shiv Sena for two and a half decades.

Importantly, heavy dependence on the NCP will expose Modi’s corruption plank. Proximity to the NCP is a long-term liability for the BJP if Modi wants to steadfastly preserve his anti-corruption plank.

In the next six months, will Fadnavis take action on corruption charges against the NCP’s Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare?

Can Fadnavis grow at high speed to show how the BJP’s development plank will work? Does Fadnavis have the talent to change the language of Maharashtra politics in just six months? Or will he also try to break the Sena or Congress to survive in power?

Maharashtra politics is at the crossroads. In this dynamic situation anything can happen in the next six months. Uddhav will have to survive and prove he is a worthy inheritor of his father’s legacy and at the same time keep his cadre and leaders in the party stable.

Fadnavis will have to prove that manoeuvrings on floor of the house were an inevitable political necessity to eventually change the destiny of Maharashtra.

Modi and Shah will have to show that they can and will resist use of ‘the system named Congress’ in their pursuit of power and absolute power.

Image: Devendra Fadnavis and other BJP leaders arrive for the trust vote on Wednesday. Photograph: Sahil Salvi.

Sheela Bhatt/ in New Delhi