Shinde’s coronation, not an aberration; it’s part of BJP’s big game plan

It is well known within BJP circles that the future turns bleak for anyone eyeing a future on their own, be it Devendra Fadnavis, Shivraj Singh Chouhan or even Yogi Adityanath

Modi Shah
Unlike in the past, the present BJP leadership is like a giant banyan tree that doesn’t allow even a blade of grass to grow beneath it.

Only the most devious and scheming of party brasses can simultaneously cut to size, the enemy outside and a loyalist insider who ‘strayed’ by imagining a future for himself beyond the designated role.

From November 2019, when Udhav Thackeray turned the tables on the Bharatiya Janata Party and became chief minister with support from  Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party and not really anyone’s (at least in Maharashtra) Congress, he was on the ‘target’ list of the BJP’s central leadership.

Shiv Sena was the BJP’s oldest ally and when the party ran a coalition government in 1995-99, Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane, both from the Sena (the latter is now in the BJP) were chief ministers sequentially, evidence of the fact that the Sena was the senior partner.

Pre and post Bal Thackeray

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This changed in the post-Bal Thackeray era. After the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah established their stranglehold duo on key decisions, the Sena lost its pre-eminence.

Eventually, anxiety, before the 2019 polls, forced the party leadership to concede Udhav’s demand for parity in seat distribution.

Modi’s return with an enhanced mandate in May 2019 saw the BJP striking tough bargains again. It never forgave the not-so-accomplished Thackeray for walking out after the Maharashtra elections and becoming chief minister.

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By clearing the way for Eknath Shinde to become chief minister, the BJP leadership is attempting to go beyond taking away Udhav’s chief ministership. It is likely that in a matter of weeks, if not days, Udhav loses control of the Sena too and is left holding a rump while the chief minister becomes the ‘real’ party, formed by Bal Thackeray more than five-and-half decades ago.

Fadnavis’ humiliation

It was preordained that the BJP would get Uddhav out of the chief ministerial office. But, the turn of events leading to Devendra Fadnavis being sworn in as deputy chief minister was unexpected because all through the entire drama in Maharashtra, he was expected to get his old job back.

Fadnavis’ demotion indicates that the party leadership does not refrain from cutting to size any leader who may have erred by eyeing the road ahead for oneself.

To comprehend Fadnavis’ humiliation, the sequence of events has to be recounted. Initially, he announced that Shinde would be chief minister and he would personally stay out of the government. This was after the party leadership communicated that it was decided that Shinde would be chief minister.

Fadnavis was asked to eat his words by the troika of Modi, Shah and party president JP Nadda who was the first to announce that the former chief minister was “directed” to take oath as deputy chief minister.

Amit Shah’s tweet followed. He announced Fadnavis’ decision to adhere to the instruction, which established ‘true allegiance’ to the party.

Left with no choice but to follow the directive, Fadnavis took oath but not before putting it out that as a loyal and faithful worker he would “follow the aadesh (order)”.

Change of plan

Modi too rubbed in the humiliation by tweeting: “Congratulations to Shri @Dev_Fadnavis Ji on taking oath as Maharashtra Deputy CM. He is an inspiration for every BJP Karyakarta…” He left little ambiguity that following orders despite having a different view, was ideal behaviour for party workers.

In 2019 prior to the Assembly polls, Modi and Shah declared Fadnavis as the party’s chief ministerial choice. So what led to them directing him to take the Dy CM’s office, certainly a demotion and a snub?

Back in 2014, when selected as chief minister most political observers outside Maharashtra asked: Fadnavis? Who is he? As chief minister, he ticked all the boxes and in time began looking at a role beyond the state. That proved his undoing.

It is well known within BJP circles that the future turns bleak for anyone eyeing a future on their own. There are several leaders who learnt this the hard way – Shivraj Singh Chouhan and even Yogi Adityanath, both of who nearly tumbled.

Unlike in the past, the present BJP leadership is like a giant banyan tree that doesn’t allow even a blade of grass to grow beneath it.

In fact, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister would be thankful for avoiding Fadnavis’ fate because he too made the mistake of assessing that he could win on his own.

Felling the adversary outside and reining in an over-ambitious party leader is not the only evidence of the BJP abandoning principles. Open display of a bottomless pile of resources to ensure the hops from Mumbai to Surat to Guwahati to Goa is possibly the least questionable of tactics used.

Governor’s office

More worrisome is the role of the judiciary and the complete hollowing of the Governor’s office in this regime.

But much remains undecided and unclear. Will Shinde and his group of rebels get recognised as a faction in its own right, the ‘real’ Sena, or will it get recognised as a breakaway faction? The settlement of this issue in his favour in either way will determine if he remains in office or not.

Furthermore, will this Maratha leader, in the event of him continuing in office past these initial hurdles, continue to be a partner of the BJP or will he eventually merge into the party to give it a badly required Maratha leader in the state?

This is not the last that one has heard of the ‘Maharashtra crisis’. Udhav has taken a beating and has retreated by quitting even the Legislative Council. Will he fade away, strike back or work out a compromise with the rebels and create a fresh challenge for the BJP?

For the BJP, the ultimate objective is to secure a majority on its own in the next Assembly polls, whenever they are held. The longevity of this government, besides the legal hurdles immediately before the Shinde group, would depend on the extent to which he kowtows to the BJP national leadership.

In the debris strewn in hotels where the MLAs made merry, it will be tough to find principles and political ethics. Events over the recent weeks underscore the rising decadence of national politics and the BJP’s adeptness at playing this game.

This episode has demonstrated again the urgent need to give more teeth to the anti-defection law and bolster the institutions of our democracy. But because those holding these important positions are increasingly appearing eager to please the political leadership, elections, verdicts and political partnerships are increasingly appearing shambolic.

(The writer is an NCR-based author and journalist. His latest book is ‘The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India’. He has also written ‘The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. The writer tweets at @NilanjanUdwin)

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not reflect the views of The Federal)

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