Choice has been redefined for voters in Maharashtra.
Voters in Maharashtra can, on October 15, choose from four major parties. But can they punish those responsible for poor governance in the past two decades? The four parties in the two principal alliances have done a ‘one-two-ka-four’ and opportunistically split the alliances. The politicos of Maharashtra have obfuscated the idea and arithmetic of accountability.
To appreciate, consider this: The Congress-NCP alliance was in power for 15 years. The voter can’t hold either accountable—as the split affords them room to escape direct accountability. The Shiv Sena-BJP combine as the Opposition should have prevented the scams. But you can’t ask why because which part of the Opposition do you ask? There is collateral consequence too. The decay of Mumbai is a poll issue. The SS-BJP combine controls the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and a budget of over `31,000 crore—more than many states. But you can’t hold either responsible for the state of roads or cleanliness, as the alliance has split— although it is yet undeclared if the divorce extends to the BMC or the Centre.
And it is not just about evading accountability. It is also about, well, market and price discovery.
When a company is split, corporate consultants sell it as ‘unfolding of value’ to investors. When two companies are merged, it is billed as ‘sum of parts value realisation’. It is no different in politics. The underlying assumption is that the split in alliances may deliver a higher market share and a higher negotiating worth. As no survey is yet projecting a majority for any party, there is no escaping a post-poll alliance.
So expect the drama to be followed by melodrama. The voter may vote with a vengeance for a party. The algebra of Maharashtra politics, however, is such that the voter may find the party he voted for in bed with a party the voter has expressly and implicitly voted against.
Consider the possible outcomes in this game theory.
The BJP may have separated from Shiv Sena, but there is no ruling out that post-poll counselling could result in reconciliation and a revival of the marriage. The BJP could also tie up with the Sharad Pawar-led NCP—rumours are afloat about the vacancy in the defence ministry and the impending reshuffle at the Centre. The Shiv Sena could restore its alliance with the BJP or it could look at a tie-up with the NCP, and some even suspect—it is a stretch though—tango with the Congress. The Congress can either go back to the NCP or it could—at a stretch—tango with the Shiv Sena (after all, it was promoted first with the tacit support of Congress and Indira Gandhi). The NCP has the widest array of options. It has embedded advantages—a fixed geography, a fixed caste catchment area, and a nearly steady, fixed vote share. Ergo, it could go back to doing business with the Congress, it could go with the BJP, or it could—at a stretch—even go with the Shiv Sena.
Talk about number portability.
One has to only look at the state of affairs to appreciate how the tyranny of win-win politics has resulted in lose-lose governance since 1999. Yes, there have been successes. The Ghadge Maharaj Clean Village campaign (on health, sanitation and cleanliness), the Tanta Mukti Programme (which helped redress nearly a million cases and disputes)—both launched by R R Patil and two e-governance initiatives—digitisation of land records, and SETU online system for getting certificates pushed by officers and enabled by Vilasrao Deshmukh. There has been no good news in five years. And good news and success is buried under an avalanche of bad news and failure.
Barring Mumbai, every other major city in the state has 8-plus hours load shedding. Although Maharashtra’s expenditure on irrigation projects is high, it is among the worst irrigated states with only 19 per cent irrigation coverage. Major infrastructure projects are victims of cost escalation and time delays. There is no sign yet of the second Mumbai airport. The bullet-proof vests promised post-26/11 are yet to arrive and police units are making do with donated ones. Despite all the controversy, nobody has been held guilty for Adarsh or for the irrigation scam. Most illustrative of this political evasion is the fact that the election Ramayana has no Ravana!
The reason is no party has a large enough footprint to rule Maharashtra. Imagine, in a house of 288, no party has scored 100 in recent years. This makes coalitions inevitable. And the architecture of coalitions is designed to deliver power, not governance. Designed in 1995, the blueprint divides the spoils of power vertically. One party gets irrigation, power and public works department, and the other gets urban development and the revenue department. While it is a coalition, power is not shared. Control over the departments is located in autonomous zones and parties thrive by creating coalitions of interests.
The stakes are the highest in two decades—parties and politicos are battling for survival. The 2014 polls afford a unique opportunity. What can the voter do? Like the super-cop in the movie, the voter can say aata maajhi satakli... that is, punish non performers—MLAs and ministers. Voters could also dismantle the ghetto of coalition alibis and vote one party with the mandate.
Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change