A little after ‘the stroke of midnight’, the BJP struck the blow, not for independence or democracy but certainly laying low conventions and parliamentary propriety. President’s Rule was melodramatically revoked close to the Brahma Muhurta (now being renamed Ram Prakhar) and the governor was presumably woken up (if he hadn’t kept an all night vigil) to swear in Devendra Fadnavis as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra for the second time. The Congress and NCP now crying foul have only themselves to blame. The Queen Bee took too long to signal her regal consent to the drones hovering around that the INC may condescend to support a ‘khichdi’ sarkar to keep the dreaded BJP out of power. In the event this procrastinating posturing provided the much more nimble BJP stalwarts time to stage a coup and turn the tables on the ‘Maratha Strongman’. (Though jury is yet out whether it was Sharad Pawar’s Power Play that led Shiv Sena up the garden path.)
There are several points to ponder in this tragic farce. First, the governor hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory by almost emulating the eminently forgettable Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed who in public memory yet green signed the ordinance imposing Emergency in a bathroom tub. Then there is the sad spectacle of the ‘Lion in Winter’ being humiliated by wily foxes who have so far survived on leftovers spared by him. ‘The Autumn of the Patriarch’ is certainly not playing out as planned. According to the swiftly unfolding spectacle, Sharad Pawar has been ‘betrayed’ by his nephew making him look like a babe in the woods populated by ravenous young wolves no longer inclined to follow the aged leader of the pack. But questions remain unanswered about Sharad Pawar’s own ambiguous statements during the most critical phase of developments.
There have been a lot of talk about all parties betraying the mandate of the electorate. It is useful to remind ourselves that the people failed to deliver a clear verdict. True, the BJP and Shiv Sena contested the elections as a pre-poll alliance and the voters returned the Congress and NCP candidates in large enough numbers to muddy waters. We must admit that ideology no longer matters in politics—electoral or otherwise. What decides the fate of governments is sheer opportunism. Dynastic bonds are no longer enough to act as a strong adhesive. When Supriya Sule tweets that her party and family have split, one has a strong sense of deja vu. From Uttar Pradesh to Tamil Nadu, rivalries fuelled by ambition (without ability to match) have resulted in decline and fall of once invincible parties; they appear like crumbling houses weakened by raging family feuds.
Finally, the Chanakya in the BJP may be grinning at the moment but no one can tell who will have the last laugh. For Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray, it’s the last ditch battle.
Unless they ensure that the new government fails to pass the trust vote on the floor of the House, it’s curtains for the NCP and Sena. Any ‘victory’ based on yet another series of somersaults by MLAs can only prove to be pyrrhic. What we must not forget is that whoever succeeds in forming the government in the blighted state is unlikely to experience good governance. Enough bad blood has been created to make reconciliation easy. In any case there is no closure in sight. None of the towering stage-strutting leaders in the Sena, BJP, INC lack hubris to self-destruct and take all along with them beyond the edge of the precipice. The NCP supremo has till now enjoyed the reputation of a peerless realist with his feet firmly on ground and sight fixed unwaveringly on low hanging fruit. He too seems to have lost his magic touch on wet floor this time.
Much has been said in praise of contemporary Chanakyas and wily strategists who mixing metaphors can turn tables, pulling the rug at the last moment unsettling election results. Also, there is a great difference between winning strategy in games played according to rules and conspiracy to capture power no holds barred. Horse trading has little in common with game of chess. Money and muscle are of little use where brainpower decides the outcome of a contest. Not so in electoral politics in India. In politics, constant checks do not necessarily indicate a stalemate that both sides can claim as an honourable draw. Not only are we paying the price for continuing mindlessly with ‘first past the post’ system, we are also complicit —not only in Maharashtra—in conceding that winner can claim all.
Neither side has acquitted itself with an iota of honour this time in Maharashtra. Cloaks and daggers have no place in a democracy. And how long can we resort to the court of last appeal to extricate us from the mess created by politicians who swear by a Constitution they seem to be bent upon dismantling in practice?