Opposition can’t be demolished in the manner of bulldozer politics

Fate and the future of the Shiv Sena rump, led by Uddhav, aren’t the only questions that are subject to speculation.
Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde. (File Photo)
Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde. (File Photo)

There have been a number of developments in the past few weeks that have left us totally bewildered.
The implosion of the MVA Government in Maharashtra and the unravelling of the Shiva Sena diverted people’s attention from other distressing problems. The mass ‘defection’ of the MLAs made a mockery of the anti-defection law as outlined in the 10th Schedule of our Constitution. The phrase ‘horse trading’ has been reduced to a meaningless cliche. Elected representatives are herded like sheep and transported from one safe location to another till the ‘rebels’ are assured that they are immune from disqualification due to respite granted by the judiciary till the ritual test on the floor of the House.

This was more like a battle of nerves where Uddhav Thackeray ‘gracefully’ blinked first and resigned rather than face an ignominious ouster. In the end, the bravado and bluster of party spokesperson Sanjay Raut proved to be of no avail. Those well-versed in constitutional law will debate for a long time the apex court’s intervention in a matter that appeared to lay clearly in the exclusive jurisdiction of the Speaker of the House.

In this case, the Deputy Speaker (in the chair in the absence of the Speaker) was himself facing a no-confidence motion. The Governor’s role in such situations is deemed to be crucial but, according to many jurists, lies in an area rendered hazy by many shades of grey. First, there were reports that Sri Koshiyari had tested positive for Covid and this was causing delay, and then he recovered remarkably fast to present a bouquet and sweets to the newly sworn chief minister. A dubious first.

Fate and the future of the Shiv Sena rump, led by Uddhav, aren’t the only questions that are subject to speculation. Will the Ageing Tiger licking its wounds now retreat ‘gracefully’ into its den yielding territory to the new King of the Urban Jungle? And, what will happen to the Lion Tamer or Ring Master the Grand Old Strong Man, Sharad Pawar? Is he the bigger loser or the only one who has emerged relatively unscathed? Let none forget that the BJP and the Shiv Sena aren’t the only stakeholders in the power play in the state—particularly in the contest to control the coffers of BMC and other sources of ‘revenue’ in the city.

The coalition government collapsed primarily because the NCP had shut out the Shiv Sainiks from the pelf and patronage game. The sorry spectacle of ministers being arrested on charges of gigantic corruption and cops turning approvers has left everyone shocked and disgusted. The rot was all-pervasive and allegations reached the very top.

The former Mumbai Commissioner of Police has recently retired under suspension. As is usual, those accused have charged that they are being targeted and victimised due to vicious political vendetta.
Sadly, the investigating agencies, including those under the Central Government, have steadily lost their credibility. Nor has the judiciary acted with the required speed and sternness to reassure the citizens that the law is taking its course freely and fearlessly. The honourable judges gracing the bench thunder and deliver long lectures on morality and sanctity of the Constitution, right to liberty and freedom of expression etc, but their orders are not always consistent with the soul-stirring statements.

To some readers, it may appear that the foregoing is like beating a dead horse. What has happened in Maharashtra is a fait accompli pulled off by a master strategist—the invisible puppet master from behind the screen. But the regime change brought about in this manner shouldn’t be confused with roadside entertainment. Today in Maharashtra, tomorrow somewhere else. The demolition of opposition in a democracy can’t be undertaken like a project to remove unauthorised structures by using bulldozers.
What such cases underline is the asymmetry of power between the Centre and the States in the Union of India. The Federal Features have almost eroded. The carrot and stick at the disposal of one have never been matched by the other.

As the Maharashtra drama was being staged, the side shows were completely washed out. The symbolic pushback by the joint opposition in the Presidential election ended with a whimper even before starting, if not with a bang then a squeak. Three worthies had opted out as soon as the slippery baton was thrust in their direction. Farooq Abdullah, Sharad Pawar, Gopal Gandhi—none was inclined to accept the role of ‘Martyr without a Cause’. In the end, it fell upon Bhishma Pitamah like Yashwant Sinha to prepare for his final discourse delivered from the bed of arrows. But let us not get distracted by mythic metaphors.

The Opposition has for all practical purposes ceased to exist. Its demise was hastened by the INC’s insistence to lead the United Front. It would be wise to listen to shrill alarm bells when there is still time. The victory of Simranjit Singh Mann with the support of Khalistani elements in Punjab doesn’t augur well for Indian Democracy.

Pushpesh Pant


Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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