Maharashtra political impasse: BJP-Sena bickering shows pitfalls of alliance politics; ideological affinity often not enough to ensure bonhomie - LiveNow24x7: Latest News, breaking news, 24/7 news,live news

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Thursday, 31 October 2019

Maharashtra political impasse: BJP-Sena bickering shows pitfalls of alliance politics; ideological affinity often not enough to ensure bonhomie

The Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party's stormy pact seems to have settled into a period of lull as the allies scramble to reach an agreement for government formation in Maharashtra.

On one hand, precedents from the past five years leave no doubt that this calm is only short lived. But on the other hand, the two parties' history from before that shows that notwithstanding the bickering, it's only a matter of time before they bury the hatchet, because they have nowhere else to go. Their marriage is a political compulsion, despite their ideological affinity. And it is precisely because of this that the Sena-BJP alliance forms a reasonably adaptable blueprint of coalition politics in India.

The allies are both believers of hypernationalism and at least a somewhat similar idea of a Hindu rashtra. However, ties between the two allies have often been acrimonious ever since BJP's tally surpassed that of the Sena in 2009 — BJP won 46 seats from the 119 seats it contested as compared to Sena's 45 seats from 160 constituency. But the discourse has been a notch shriller since the 2014 Assembly elections when the BJP refused to play second fiddle to the Sena any more. The parties had gone their separate ways before the polls.

The Sena was humbled by a substantially lesser tally while the BJP's tally swelled, stopping just short of a majority. Consequently, the Sena joined hands with the BJP again, even at the cost of settling for far fewer portfolios than what the BJP may have yielded in a pre-poll alliance. Although the Sena joined the government, it consistently took positions on various issues that were embarrassing for its ally, and published editorials criticising the BJP in Saamna, the party mouthpiece.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis with Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray and Yuva Sena Chief Aaditya Thackeray during the announcement of parties' Maha Yuti (Grand alliance). PTI

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis with Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray and Yuva Sena Chief Aaditya Thackeray during the announcement of parties' Maha Yuti (Grand alliance). PTI

That said, the Sena never threatened to topple the Maharashtra government, even though it sided with the Opposition more often than with its ally on key issues. It was only before the Lok Sabha elections that the two parties reached a truce of sorts, and agreed to fight the polls together.

In the aftermath of the 2019 Assembly elections, the BJP's tally reduced and the Shiv Sena seized the opportunity to seek a rotational chief ministership between the two parties for a period of 2.5 years. In fact, within the span of Thursday's news cycle, the headlines changed twice: early morning updates signaled a let-up, but by noon the media was reporting a fresh impasse with Sena digging its heels on the demand for a rotational chief ministership. In their tongue-lashing, both partners did tease the other with the threat of keeping "other options open", and Sena did briefly flirt with the NCP. But both the Sena and the BJP know that owing to their saffron ideology, an alliance with NCP or Congress will be akin to political suicide. The result is that nobody seems to be in a hurry to form a fresh government to resume administrative work, while both partners wait to see who blinks first.

The Maharashtra conundrum is partly a result of Shiv Sena's insecurities, which aren't completely unfounded. Being a regional party it does not want to be threatened in its bastion by its one-time junior ally. On the contrary, BJP too believes that it has the political right to expand its base in the state. The resulting conflict of interest is most likely to throw up an alliance in which the ruling partners are too preoccupied with watching their backs to actively address governance.

However, the situation in Maharashtra is not a unique one. Alliance politics, necessitated by the need to stay in power, is almost always a manifestation of opportunism.

In fact, the BJP's reluctance to agree to Sena's so-called 50:50 formula can be attributed to its past experiences with coalitions.

BJP-BSP alliance in the late 1990s

The BJP burnt its hands first in 1997 when it discarded its traditional politics of wooing upper caste Hindus to enter a power-sharing arrangement with arch rival and Dalit leader Mayawati. The coalition agreement stipulated that the chief ministership would rotate after six months. A review of the power-sharing arrangement was to take place at the end of one year. However, after completing her term, Mayawati stunned the BJP by refusing to back Kalyan Singh as chief minister. The alliance was forged between ideological adversaries due to a ruthless pursuit of power, and it fell apart for the same reason. Subsequently, Mayawati sought to deflect criticism by blaming the BJP for its anti-Dalit attitude.

In 1999, it was again Mayawati who may have brought down the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government by one vote, the narrowest defeat in a trust vote in history. The reports from the time suggest that the BSP promised Vajpayee its support in Parliament the same morning as the trust vote, but as Mayawati rose to speak in Parliament, she stunned everyone by announcing that she would be opposing the government.

BJP-JD(S) alliance in 2006

The BJP's second tryst with betrayal was at the hands of HD Kumaraswamy-led JD(S), the same party that allied with the Congress last year in exchange of chief minister's position despite being the junior partner in alliance. The events following the 2018 Karnataka Assembly polls bear an eerie similarity to what the state witnessed in 2004.

In 2004, the BJP emerged as the single-largest party in Karnataka. However, the Congress pulled the same stunt as it did after the 2018 Assembly polls by forming a government with the Janata Dal (Secular) of HD Deve Gowda. BS Yediyurappa, stung by the near-miss, waited patiently for the right time to strike. After two years, he formed an alliance with HD Kumaraswamy, the son of Deve Gowda, under a similar power-sharing formula as that in Uttar Pradesh in 1997. Kumaraswamy became the chief minister but when Yediyurappa's turn came in 2007, Kumaraswamy walked out of the alliance, barely after a week of relinquishing power.

The BJP's notorious alliance with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's PDP and their subsequent betrayal of his daughter Mehbooba is another example how forced friendships to grab power rarely yield a complete term. The BJP, which had been forging alliances across the country to gather state after state, had tried the same thing in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in 2014 by tying up with PDP.

It was a unique experiment, considering that the ideologies of the two parties are completely in contrast with each other. While BJP is a party that has advocated Hindutva and has opposed Article 370 and 35A since its inception, the PDP is seen as a party with soft separatist leanings.

The coalition went on well for some time but suffered a setback when Mufti Sayeed passed away on 7 January, 2016 due to illness, The parties again stitched up an unlikely alliance, this time propping up Mehbooba as chief minister. However, when trouble erupted after Hizbul Mujahideen's poster boy Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter in July 2016.

Finally, in June 2018, the BJP unilaterally withdrew from the coalition government without even sparing Mehbooba the courtesy of a formal notice. Reports said that she learnt that her government had lost the majority in the middle of a meeting with bureaucrats through media reports. The Governor's rule was imposed the same night, which the BJP eventually used to strip the state of its special powers, something it couldn't have done while it was in alliance as the common minimum programme between the two parties had a safeguard against any such move.

Assessing impartially, coalition politics does have the potential of ensuring wider representation in government as political parties representing diverse interest groups come together. However, precedents show that the need to stay in power often undermines the sentiments stated behind the coming together of political parties.

With inputs from agencies

October 31, 2019 at 05:44PM

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