Ethics and Politics are as similar as chalk and cheese. In Maharashtra and elsewhere, the semantic and philosophical border between ethics and morals—the first deals with public conduct while the second concerns individual principles—is being redrawn. Ethically speaking, the means must not justify the end. But now the good, bad and ugly are being morally justified in the tactical takeover of a target. To pluck power, the method hardly matters. Might is Right is the new normal.
Last weekend, the BJP used every word and phrase in the rulebook to bring Devendra Fadnavis back as the Maharashtra Chief Minister. Technically and numerically, it didn’t commit constitutional impropriety, even though Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari in his wisdom chose not to invite other leaders, the Bombay High Court Chief Justice and senior officials for the swearing-in. Koshyari, a former BJP chief minister of Uttarakhand, was within his rights to invite any neta, who, at least on paper enjoyed majority on the floor of the House.
It took almost a month for the party to claim it has converted its minority into a majority. But it took just a brief intermezzo to lift President’s rule, and that too, during the wee hours. The end was pre-decided and achieved without bothering about the tools. Modi’s instinct is to go for the kill heedless of the fallout of his rapid political and administrative adventurism. Even though B S Yediyurappa and Fadnavis had to resign before facing confidence motions, these have hardly impacted Modi’s statecraft.
There is no circus history has not witnessed, no clowns, no acrobats nor lion tamers it hasn’t sold tickets for. Is the Maharashtra Mahabharata just another circus of convenience and calumny, an act that has been played out in many states in the past? No. There is a deliberate difference. Earlier outfits would split; MLAs would resign and join the ruling party—all in the public eye while following established procedures of going through the motions. In Maharashtra, for the first time, the Governor held midnight meetings to decide its fate, accepted the letter from a leader and not his party and completed all formalities before the sun rose on a bewildered Mumbai.
In Delhi, President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Secretary to the President, Home Secretary and scores of senior officials were up in the middle of the night to sign the documents required to make Fadnavis the chief minister again. It was also for the first time in recent memory that a special provision of Rule 12 of the Government Business Rules was invoked to avoid calling the mandatory Cabinet meeting to lift President’s rule. No other leader so far has so frequently used the Constitution to one’s political advantage in spite of frequent vigorous judicial scrutiny.
Operation Maha connates with l’affaire Bihar when in July 2017, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar resigned when his deputy Tejashwi refused to quit after the CBI filed a corruption case against him. JD(U) and the Lalu Prasad-led RJD had won the Assembly elections together in 2015 defeating the BJP. Instead of accepting Nitish’s resignation, Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi invited him around 1.30 am after the BJP extended its support. He was sworn in as Chief Minister with BJP’s Sushil Kumar as Deputy CM at 10 am even before the RJD could stake its claim for an alternative government.
In both states, the BJP proved that its High Commanders leave nothing to chance to capture state after state and torpedo the opposition. Unlike the Congress and its fellow travellers, Modi and Shah have acquired mastery over political numerology which helps them operate a perfectly legal mechanism to convert minority into majority. Since 2014, they have decided not to allow any state escape the saffron grip. It started with Arunachal Pradesh and ended with Karnataka. The BJP tried the same tactics in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh where it had lost to the Congress, but old warhorses like Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath thwarted their attempts.
The Modi-Shah model of mergers and acquisitions of parties has emerged from the detritus of the dwindling Congress base and the inability of opposition leaders to learn the new political physics. BJP working President J P Nadda echoed Modi’s doctrine that Speed, Scale and Skill are the passwords to hack and destroy the mainframe of any complex challenge. Surprise is the new addition to this power lexicon. During the past five and a half years, all four Ss have been successfully deployed by the party and the Centre to disarm adversaries, convert challenges into opportunities and expand its gigantic footprint. Demonetisation and GST were displays of Modi Mach. His mega outreach events held in most of the countries he visited was a display of Scale. He Skilfully provided gas connections to women and ensured record enrolment in Aadhaar to make the BJP the world’s largest political party. The abrogation of Article 370, surgical strikes and getting financial crooks back home were examples of his knack for Speed.
Indubitably Modi and Shah have redefined the contours of power politics. Taking full advantage of the divided Opposition and fading Gandhi glamour, they moved with victorious velocity to reduce the Congress’s geographical presence and capture vacated space. Though Nehruvian posturing is a Congress article of faith, it is not apparent in their political operations. Indira Gandhi became its proprietary pioneer by demolishing Nehruvian federalism; as the youngest Congress president, she forced daddy to dismiss the elected Communist government in Kerala. Subsequently she went on an ejection spree of duly elected non-Congress governments over 50 times. Her familial successors followed in her footsteps with their supremacy intact. If there is no Nehru in the Congress now, there is no Deendayal Upadhyaya, L K Advani or Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the BJP who followed the conventional politics of consensus and conciliation.
They accepted and tolerated frequent humiliations from allies and demeaning dismissals of their governments. Though Modi is committed to the Sangh ideology, he is no pushover. He thinks big and acts bigger. His appetite for taking risks is gargantuan. He is a record creator who has combined technology, techniques and tactics to consolidate his hold on government and politics. The result is a new and flexible political architecture with the blueprint to build fresh institutions of his choice while dynamiting all road blocks to aggrandising the Modi Vision and Mission. It has worked for him so far. Under Modi-Shah, the BJP is no more a party with a difference. It is a party which makes a difference. Only time will tell whether his style and substance can sustain his mojo forever.