ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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A Shift in the Politics of Maharashtra

The homogenising projects of the Bharatiya Janata Party have necessitated diverse political experiments.


After more than a month since the declaration of assembly election results, a new government has been formed in Maharashtra. The tripartite alliance government consisting of Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Indian National Congress is definitely a unique experiment necessitated by prevailing political circumstances. Technically speaking, the pre-poll alliance between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena had secured a majority and could have formed the government. However, for reasons best known to either party, the pre-poll alliance could not lead these parties to finally form the government. The tripartite alliance is unprecedented because it has been formed among the political forces that have thus far been staunch political opponents, and it is a response to the homogenising tendencies that have been quite dominant in the party that is ruling at the centre. Taking a cynical view of this development as mere opportunism or taking a holier-than-thou approach of deriding it as an ideological surrender would overlook this political context. While admitting that a section among those who have taken the latter view has certain valid concerns and apprehensions, one must note that active politics demands actionable alternatives, for there is never a vacuum. If such an actionable alternative is not worked out, other forces would occupy that space, which in this case would have meant the BJP having access to power in the state. The political and social undesirability of such an outcome—not only for the three parties concerned, but also for large sections of distressed masses—provides adequate justification for the tactical alliance.

Anchored by the NCP President Sharad Pawar, the alliance partners have chosen the path of intervention in the unfolding situation after election results, rather than the path of abstaining. Considering the capacity of the ruling party to manoeuvre the political narrative, only such proactive intervention can produce crises before them. So far, the Congress party’s approach as an opposition party has been marked by a sense of passivity and rigidity. Therefore, it has not been able to set the political agenda or terms of debate and ceded that space to the ruling party. Prob­ably under Pawar’s advice, it seems to have changed the tack on this occasion and accepted the junior partner role in order to realise the larger political goal. If this tactical flexibility is persisted with—particularly in the context of increasing rigidity in the BJP’s approach that is consistent with its unitary, homogenising tendencies—the Congress can assume a prominent and active role in facilitating coalition(s) against the ruling party’s dominance.

Recognising the value of heterogeneity and accommodating diversity are inextricably linked to widening the cracks in this dominance, as the ruling party’s project of securing unchallenged dominance is premised upon the denial of these values. Such a project can be sustained only by taking recourse to a form of authoritarianism in a society and polity like India, which has multiple axes of diversity and inequality. However, sustaining this authoritarianism within the formal democratic framework itself can run into limits and miserable failures of the ruling party’s skulduggery, and attempts to capture power by stealth have underscored these limits. Comforted by its self-image of being masters of managing to stay in power at any cost, the BJP leadership at the centre and state seems to have bitten far more than it could chew when its chief minister took oath on 23 November 2019 after an overnight political manoeuvre. They might have been under the impression that with brazen use of money power and pressure tactics, it could break the opposition members of the legislative assembly, engineer splits, and all this would go unchallenged. However, in a democratic set-up, a rooted mass politics with a strong social base and strong connections with the establishment due to years of experience of ruling can combine to provide a counterweight to and even outsmart such desperate moves. Desperation on the part of the BJP leadership shows how much the control of levers of power at every level is crucial for them to sustain their political project, and hence underscores once again the sagacity of the efforts to deprive them of the same.

Having succeeded in foiling the attempts of the ruling party, the tripartite alliance government faces the challenge of establishing its credibility among the people through its actions. In ­doing so, it would have to adhere to the policies, which are highlighted in the common minimum programme, giving immediate relief to the distressed masses. Along with that, it will have to show exemplary skills to avoid the traps set by the BJP and sections of the media, which could lead it astray from its principal task of providing an alternative. Having allied with a party that ­espouses ideological positions quite antithetical to their own, the NCP and the Congress have a specific and significant task of attaining and articulating ideological clarity to be a moderating influence on Shiv Sena as well as establishing their own centrality to political discourse. Effective implementation of the maxim, “Tactical Flexibility and Ideological Firmness,” would be crucial to this endeavour.

Updated On : 4th Dec, 2019


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