BJP divide and fool may boomerang

At least for now. The BJP’s Maharashtra Model is unlikely to be limited to the state.
BJP divide and fool may boomerang

Divide and Rule is passé. The new political philosophy is Unite and Rule. As the countdown for Mandate 2024 begins, a belligerent BJP has embarked on a new political hunt to feed its national hunger and retain its power protein in India’s body politic.

The saffron leviathan’s usual jungle playbook of acquisitions and mergers has been canned. The Congress Mukt Bharat slogan, too, has been binned for now. The Lotus Leopard is on the prowl to engorge the smaller regional parties. It targets nefarious netas who are either tainted by corruption or are perennially looking out for crumbs of power by trading their ideologies and ideals.

During the past few months, the Hindutva-heavy leadership has unleashed its plan for the mass destruction of picayune parties, which can potentially damage its electoral chances in a state.

Last week, its quarry was the most powerful Maratha leader, Sharad Pawar, and his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Barely 48 hours after Prime Minister Modi called NCP the most corrupt party, BJP’s state leadership under Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis hijacked two-thirds of its leadership. He forced helpless Chief Minister Eknath Shinde to swear in nine NCP ninepins as ministers with the avariciously ambitious Ajit Pawar, Pawar Sr’s nephew, as a second Deputy Chief Minister.45

Neither mathematically nor politically did this circus make sense since the ruling Shiv Sena-BJP combo’s government enjoyed a comfortable majority. It is evident that the BJP’s objective is to accelerate its process of eliminating regional parties from the coming electoral battle. With Pawar Sr pulling the coalition strings, the BJP, which won 41 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 in alliance with the Sena, isn’t confident of repeating its numerical success. According to Maharashtra watchers, the BJP wouldn’t have won even ten seats.

Logically, Shiv Sena and the NCP together had over 20 MPs. This electoral hookup was a natural target. Hence Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena was the first to be broken. He lost almost all his MLAs and power. However, recent internal assessments on the ground showed that the Shinde Sena would lose heavily because his acceptability as chief minister was minimal. A section of the BJP was convinced that it wouldn’t win the Lok Sabha contest if Shinde led the government since an axis of Uddhav, the Congress and NCP was getting more public traction and had won many by-elections. In a single disruptive move, the BJP was able to diminish Sharad Pawar’s clout and convert Maharashtra’s tallest Maratha leader legislatively into a tiny titan searching for new space.

At least for now. The BJP’s Maharashtra Model is unlikely to be limited to the state.

If news dished out by the not-so-credible media is taken at face value, the saffron superpower could apply the same tactics to furcate the regional parties in Bihar, UP, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha. In these states, the BJP expects to compensate for any losses it would suffer in other states. After all, the party is faced with ten years of incumbency at the Centre and in many states.

Looks like the double-engine sarkar trope is losing steam and needs a “triple engine” formula in Maharashtra. Despite claiming to be the world’s largest political party, the BJP seeks ideologically contrarian outsiders to join its pantheon to ensure a third term for the globally most popular leader. However, political pundits are busy dissecting the fallout of the Maharashtra maelstrom on other parties. The possible questions being asked are:

1. Can it derail the Opposition coadunation? Unlikely. None of the leaders engaged in Operation BJP Hatao has shown signs of switching sides to the ruling monolith. Individuals with patent ideologies run all regional parties. They are unlikely to break ranks. Their resolve to forge unity would be strengthened, not weakened. Moreover, they have the advantage of not facing mutual challenges in their fiefdoms. In major states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the Opposition will put up a better fight than ever before. In all the southern states barring Karnataka, the BJP hasn’t been able to create a charismatic local leader and is toast without RSS margarine. Its relations with local parties like the AIADMK aren’t yielding any major dividends. Its flirtations with celebrities in Kerala have failed to get it any seat in the Lok Sabha.

2. How would the Pawar Play affect the Congress party? It is perhaps for the first time after almost a decade that it is sitting pretty since the BJP’s focus has shifted to small parties, which had been the Grand Old Party’s nemesis in the past. Buoyed by its victory in Karnataka, it looks forward to major gains in the upcoming state elections. Since the BJP is unable to wean away any of its leaders in the poll-bound states, the GOP seems to be more united than before. It has resolved internecine feuds in Chhattisgarh and other states. With his new hirsute makeover, Rahul Gandhi appears more visible and credible than some years ago. The Congress has another advantage in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal, Telangana, etc., where its fight is against either the BJP or a local outfit. Since it is the only other national party with a footprint in almost every district, it stands to benefit from the marginalisation of territorial teams. Despite its weaknesses and infirmities, it still possesses a pervasive organisation, leadership and an alternative agenda for governance.

3. Will the Maharashtra Mayhem ensure a third term for the BJP at the Centre? With 48 MPs, the state is India’s second largest after Uttar Pradesh. Only by successfully eroding vote banks there through defections and destruction can the Lotus League hope to win 41 seats again. But if it nets only leaders and not votes, the state would be the weathercock indicating setbacks for BJP. It has to repeat its strike rate of almost 100 per cent in nearly ten states, including Gujarat, Rajasthan, MP and Karnataka. Moreover, party pessimists feel that open invitation to outsiders indicates that the leadership is not confident of winning an absolute majority on its own.

With the Lok Sabha elections barely ten months away, expect unimaginable political war games in which AI will dominate the personalities and the policies with machinations and mirages. But contrary to the general perception, Operation Maharashtra is more likely to improve the Opposition Unity Index than weaken it. With many disgruntled elements leaving the Opposition ranks, there will be more cohesiveness and collaboration in finding the gold at the end of the new rainbow-coloured BJP. Nevertheless, the algorithm of victory for the saffron supercomputer needs a new code and conduct.

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