Why Maharashtra Political Crisis ‘Opportunity’ Must Not Be Wasted

What are the lessons for the key players in the Maharashtra political drama? What should be their next steps?

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Image of The Quint’s Editor-in-Chief, Raghav Bahl, and map of Maharashtra, used for representational purposes.
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Once the 80-hour-long Maharashtra fiasco ended, I had two options. I could dive into reams of enlightened analysis from political pundits, or I could call Ganesh (I have given him a fictitious name to protect his privacy, but the guy is for real). I chose to call Ganesh – but before I tell you what he told me, here’s a quick background on him.

Ganesh is a charming housekeeper at my favourite hotel in uptown Mumbai. I stay there for over 50 days in a year, and by happenstance, Ganesh is my ‘evening turn-down service boy’ on over 40 of those (I suspect it’s got something to do with my generous tips, as Ganesh is smart enough to fix/game the roster – but hey, every chap has the right to maximise his income, right?).

Maharashtra Drama: ‘Everybody Must Learn Lessons’

Ganesh must be in his early 30s, a stocky, handsome young man, a typical Marathi manoos (local). Unsurprisingly, he is also a huge Modi fan. While he would forever curse the hardships caused by demonetisation, lambast GST for inflating 5-star hotel expenses and destroying jobs, berate the government for skyrocketing foodgrain/onion prices, but whenever I would ask “lekin tum toh Modiji kay fan ho?” (translated: why are you cribbing because you are a Modi fan?), his reply would be lightening quick: “arrey sahib, Modiji toh dabangg hain. Dekho Pakistan ko hila kay rakh diya hai” (translated: Oh sir, Prime Minister Modi is exceptional. See how he has made Pakistan cower in fear).

I had last met Ganesh when the BJP-Sena relationship had broken down irretrievably, and Uddhav Thackeray had begun flirting with Sharad Pawar to explore a hitherto unthinkable political alliance. I had asked Ganesh for his take.

Ganesh: “Sahib, yeh Modiji kuchch theek nahin kar rahe hain. Doosron ko bhi chance dena chahiya. Agar Uddhavji fifty-fifty mukhya mantri ban jaatey hain toh kya buraayi hai? Modiji ko toh bas sab kuchch hi apney control main rakhna hai”. (Translated: Prime Minister Modi should agree to Uddhav Thackeray’s fifty-fifty sharing plan for the CM’s job. Why does he want to keep everything only under his own control?)

Shiv Sena supporters celebrate after their party chief Uddhav Thackeray was designated as Maharashtra’s new CM.
Shiv Sena supporters celebrate after their party chief Uddhav Thackeray was designated as Maharashtra’s new CM.
(Photo: PTI)

I shot back, with undisguised glee at his discomfiture: “arrey bhai, magar tum toh Modiji kay fan ho?” (translated: but you are a Modi fan? How can you say this?)

Ganesh: “yeh baat bhi sahi hai. Modiji hain toh dabangg, lekin ….” (translated: yes, Modi is fearless, exceptional, but ….).

That was about a fortnight back. I now reached out to Ganesh for his conclusive assessment: “sahib, yeh toh theek hi ho gaya. Lekin sabko iskay baad sabak lena chahiye” (translated: this has ended fine, but everybody needs to learn lessons here).

That set me thinking. Why not figure out the lessons that impregnate this unusual political event. At the very least I shall have something intelligent to toss at Ganesh the next time he comes for the ‘evening turn-down service’! Here goes.

Next Steps For Prez Kovind & Guv Koshyari

For President Ramnath Kovind: Unfortunately, his constitutional obligations have been highly compromised. He should recall the folly of former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed on the intervening night of 25/26 June 1975, when Mrs Indira Gandhi’s Proclamation of Emergency was signed without any Cabinet advice. As a young political activist then, I am sure Ramnath Kovind must have joined his leaders in brutally condemning that constitutional travesty.

Now, the baton is with him. President Kovind must never allow such a dangerous breach of due process, ever again.

For Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari: Sad, because his conduct was dubiously partisan. He almost seemed to be acting on the orders of his erstwhile political masters. He must recall the condemnation heaped on former Governor Buta Singh, who whimsically dismissed Bihar’s elected assembly in 2005, simply because Laloo Prasad Yadav, an influential minister in the UPA government at the Center, wanted it so.

Again, I am sure Koshyari must have railed against that politically obnoxious action. Perhaps Governor Koshyari should now take moral responsibility and quit, restoring the sanctity of his office.

Maharashtra CM-designate Uddhav Thackeray meets state Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari at Raj Bhavan in Mumbai.
Maharashtra CM-designate Uddhav Thackeray meets state Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari at Raj Bhavan in Mumbai.
(Photo: PTI)

BJP Govt Must Honour Democratic Institutions

For the BJP and Prime Minister Modi: From here on, the Modi government must give supreme precedence to democratic institutions and conventions. Politics, the ‘art of the possible’, cannot degenerate into ‘only ends matter, however questionable the means’. If anything, a graceful acceptance of loss is an asset; it enhances, and does not diminish, one’s political stature.

And by the way, tweeting can be injurious to health. A usually circumspect PM Modi made a flamboyant political error when he tweeted, within a minute of that early morning coup, congratulating Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar. His alacrity virtually made him the architect of this operation in public perception. Honestly, I was surprised that a consummate, legendarily patient prime minister was so keen to put his signature at such a premature, uncertain stage of the takeover.

Former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis with BJP MLAs at Maharashtra Assembly, in Mumbai, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019. 
Former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis with BJP MLAs at Maharashtra Assembly, in Mumbai, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019. 
(Photo: PTI)

For Congress: ‘Pick Up the Gauntlet & Fight Hard’

For Congress and Sonia Gandhi: Most battles are lost in the mind. But see how the Congress, which seemed to have given up even before the campaign began, is now in government in Maharashtra. Plus, in four other powerful states of north, west and central India. Thanks to the never-say-die spirit of its own partially estranged veterans.

So, the twin lessons for Congress are obvious: pick up the gauntlet and fight hard against the BJP, which is not invincible. And reach out to the formidable clutch of ex-colleagues who have created fortresses against the ruling regime, ranging from Pawar to Mamata to the Yadavs to Naidu, and forge a sustained rainbow coalition.

Engage, communicate, trust, and create mechanisms to give this a near-permanent edifice. Also empower your own political heavyweights. Do not allow this momentum to flag.

Road Ahead for Sharad Pawar

For Sharad Pawar: It’s a grand, as-yet-evolving autumn for the patriarch. He has emerged as the Bhishma Pitamah (aka as the wisest statesman from the Mahabharata) of opposition politics.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar with his daughter and party MP Supriya Sule leaves for a meeting of Congress-NCP leaders, in Mumbai on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar with his daughter and party MP Supriya Sule leaves for a meeting of Congress-NCP leaders, in Mumbai on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019.
(Photo: PTI)

He insisted on Uddhav Thackeray leading a five-year government, proving that ego is the most dispensable item for a successful leader. He persuaded Congress to join the government, maximising the coalition’s stability. He wooed back Ajit Pawar, his errant political progeny, showing the power of reconciliation and restraint in winning rearguard battles. He was resolute, not angry.

In fact, I would wager that Sharad Pawar made the enviable transition from a master strategist to a political statesman. 

His challenge is now crystal clear – he should become the fulcrum of a combined Opposition to take on the powerful Modi-led BJP, so that whatever the outcome in 2024, India ends up with a more balanced, fair, and equitable democracy.

Okay, I am now ready to meet my Ganesh in Mumbai.

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