Devendra Fadnavis

Once-bitten BJP keeping its cards close to its chest in Maharashtra

Fadnavis faced, and brought in, much embarrassment in 2019; this time the central BJP is holding the steering wheel with the Maharashtra unit at a safe distance

The Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde-led rebellion has put the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government on the brink of collapse. Since Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s departure from the official residence, Varsha, clouds of political uncertainty have been looming over Maharashtra politics. Despite the situation being fertile for the formation of a new government under BJP leadership, the state unit of the national party has kept unusually mum over the current political crisis in the state.

On the other hand, the rebellion in the Shiv Sena is also playing out differently. Shinde, the leader of the rebel group, has denied plans to leave the Sena, and his co-rebels, too, have been expressing loyalty to the party. Both Camp Shinde and Camp Uddhav have been claiming control over the party. In such a situation, the BJP is not able to decide its course of action. The state BJP is also acting shy as it has suffered major reverses in the past.

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Learning from the past

The 2019 Assembly elections results in the state were followed by political upheaval. While the Shiv Sena and the BJP had fought the elections together, so had NCP and the Congress. The Sena-BJP alliance secured a majority in the 288-seat Assembly. However, though the Shiv Sena won fewer seats than the BJP, it asked to share the CM post. The BJP declined and instead urged the Sena to take the Deputy CM’s post. This political tussle resulted in the break-up of the saffron alliance.

Also read: Shiv Sena and BJP: How love turned to hatred in a saffron haze

NCP supremo Sharad Pawar entered the scene and brought the Congress around to agreeing to align with the Sena. Thus, the MVA came into existence with the Sena, NCP and the Congress as partners. Uddhav was asked to be the leader of the new dispensation.

However, while the date for Uddhav’s coronation was being discussed, Ajit Pawar, a nephew of the NCP chief and a major political leader in Maharashtra, formed a government with the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis in an unexpected move. As the NCP’s leader of the house, Ajit had the support of MLAs.

Sharad Pawar swung into action and many MLAs from the Ajit Pawar camp were brought back into the NCP fold. Ajit too surrendered in the end. As a result, the Fadanvis-led BJP-Ajit Pawar government collapsed within 78 hours. Later, Uddhav took the reins of state and Ajit was made the Deputy CM. 

In all this political drama, the main loser was Fadnavis, who came out as a power hungry and desperate leader in Maharashtra. This not only dented his image but also embarrassed the BJP nationally, as it was considered as a defeat of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Fadnavis’ popularity plunged and he became the object of memes and political jokes. 

Also read: What’s the secret of Uddhav’s calmness? It’s the Shiv Sena cadres

It’s this that Fadanvis and his party wish to avoid this time round. Any overt move by the BJP in this political crisis will paint the party as power-hungry and desperate for the crown. BJP state president Chandrakat Patil therefore told the media that the current political crisis is an internal matter of the Sena and that the BJP had no role to play. The state BJP unit is wary of the outcome of the current crisis, and silence appears the best policy. 

BJP’s central leadership takes control

However, in a recently surfaced video of rebels camping in Guwahati, Shinde reportedly said he and the rebels have the integral support of a national party that’d taught a lesson to Pakistan — an obvious hint at the BJP. The relocation of his supporters from Gujarat to Assam — both BJP-ruled states — also points at the national party’s role in the crisis.  Prime facie, it seems the central BJP leadership has kept the state BJP away and the entire situation is being handled by the party’s top brass in Delhi. 

Also read: From Raj to Rane to Shinde: Shiv Sena’s long tryst with rebellion

In the video, Shinde also reportedly talked about the national party’s whole-hearted support for its cause. This clearly suggests that the central BJP has assumed control over the state affairs and has decided to take on the Shiv Sena. 

One reason behind the shifting of Shinde camp to Guwahati could be Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s close relationship with the BJP’s central leadership. Sarma is seen as trustworthy and his stock is high after the successful saffronisation of the North-East in the last few years. Some news reports surfaced regarding his active involvement in the crisis. However, he has publicly denied any involvement.

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