The collapse of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra may not have surprised many, but it is the lack of a real fight back, particularly the Shiv Sena, against the BJP onslaught that has left many people puzzled.
Yes, the BJP used central agencies as well as tremendous money and muscle power in recent months, but this was not new. All three parties in the MVA knew that PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah were eyeing the seat of power in Maharashtra. Devendra Fadnavis has never hidden his ambition to topple the collation. So what explains the abject surrender?
With the Bihar election and the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, to the communal tension after the Palghar Sadhu murders during lockdown, to the recent Hanuman Chalisa controversy, the MVA allies were fully aware the Maharashtra BJP was trying to create an ‘atmosphere’ against the alliance. The defeat of the second Shiv Sena candidate in the Rajya Sabha polls should have sent alarm bells ringing. And while the Shiv Sena managed to get both their candidates elected in the Legislative Council polls a few days later, the cross-voting that once again took place, helping the BJP to get their fifth candidate elected, should placed the MVA government on the highest alert.
What was the Home Minister, a portfolio held by Sharad Pawar’ NCP, doing? What was the state’s intelligence department upto? Immediately after these polls, 16 Sena MLAs, led by Eknath Shinde, were “escorted” by the Maharashtra police to the Maharashtra-Gujarat border. This speaks volumes about the gross incompetence of the government and its ministers.
What followed was nothing short of a daily television show with Sanjay Raut doing a bad job of the entertainment quotient; therein lay another problem for the Shiv Sena and the Maha Vikas Aghadi. Nawab Malik and Anil Deshmukh, as the earlier Home Minister, did try to take on the might of the BJP and the central agencies, but they are in prison. Sanjay Raut, who tried to become the face of the MVA, lacks stature and gravitas and came across more like a comedian playing up to social media audiences rather than a strategist. The MVA with Sanjay Raut made the exact same error of judgement that the Congress made by giving power to Navjot Singh Sidhu in Punjab, or putting its might behind the words of a non-serious politician Kumar Vishwas, thinking that the applause on social media translates into votes.
Perhaps this is why the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray chose to resign on Facebook Live rather than in the Assembly. I have no hesitation in saying the MVA and the Chief Minister missed an opportunity to address the state and the country through the Assembly. Imagine the scenario if the Chief Minister, knowing he did not have the numbers, would still go to battle. Eknath Shinde and the ‘rebel’ MLAs would have to be seated on the Shiv Sena benches. Imagine the Sena Chief looking at each rebel in the eye, asking them to stab him from the front and not in his back. Playing the martyr card. By resigning on Facebook, the Chief Minister also denied other senior MVA leaders the chance to address the House and take on the BJP. I cannot imagine Indira Gandhi-ji or Atal-ji or Modi-ji resigning on social media, giving up the opportunity to speak to voters directly from the floor of the assembly. It is this lack of willingness to fight from the MVA that has lead to their downfall. The MVA refused to take on the centre like Mamata Banerjee. They didn’t take on even the Governor. Imagine for over a year, the Governor just sat on the nomination of 12 MLCs sent by the Cabinet and the government did nothing about it.
As the MVA folds up, the biggest loss in this saga is for the Congress. Three Congress MLAs cross-voted in the Legislative Council elections and the party does not have a clue about who they are. Many MLAs were uncomfortable with the alliance with the Shiv Sena. Many others were extremely uncomfortable with the entertainer who was sent to the Rajya Sabha via Maharashtra over stalwarts from Maharashtra. In my opinion, for the Congress, the NCP is a bigger threat than the BJP, particularly in western Maharashtra. Therefore it is important that the Congress realise that it is eroding its based by joining alliances just to keep the BJP out of power. The Congress must focus on winning elections and strengthing the party, rather than doing tie-ups only with the intention of not allowing BJP to form the government. Regional parties have always grown when they are in an alliance with the Congress, and that is something the grand old party must think about if it seriously does hope to come to power in India again.
(Tehseen Poonawalla is a political & constitutional analyst and an entrepreneur.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.