The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance's stunning victory has come as a shot in the arm for Devendra Fadnavis, the man in charge of the BJP's Bihar battleplan. The former Maharashtra chief minister, however, told India Today that national politics in not on the radar; Mumbai is his destination in near future.
Fadnavis said the present Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray will not last long and will fall under its own weight. More importantly, he claimed that once the government falls, the BJP won't go for mid-term polls in the state but will form the government at once. The NCP and Shiv Sena leaders called it "daydreaming" by the former chief minister as they know that Maharashtra is stuck in a peculiar number game where no party can form the government on its own. The BJP, as matters stand now, is 30 MLAs short of the majority mark in the House.
If the BJP is to form the government, it will either have to go with Shiv Sena, NCP or Congress or carve out a rebel faction from either of them but with a much bigger chunk of MLAs than in Madhya Pradesh or Karnataka.
Numbers make it difficult
The Maharashtra Assembly results gave a clear majority to the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance with 105 MLAs to BJP and 56 MLAs to Shiv Sena to form a majority government in the state. But contrary to the BJP's expectations, the Opposition parties NCP and Congress also did better compared to the 2014 elections, with 54 and 44 seats respectively. The other smaller parties bagged 16 seats and Independents 13. Following differences over government formation, the alliance was dissolved.
NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar pulled out a political twister and formed the MVA with Shiv Sena, Congress and some smaller parties under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray. Currently, the MVA has strength of 169 in the 288-member House. Four MLAs remained unaligned which gives the BJP's a strength of 115 with the support of some Independents.
The numbers seem sorted now, but problems remain in the government. There have been discussions among Uddhav's Cabinet colleagues about his style of working and his unavailability to ministers as well. Local issues like allocation of funds have somewhat created a sense of discontentment among MLAs, sources said.
"There is an issue of coordination in the government. When such kinds of coalition governments are formed, the coordination among partners is of utmost importance. A coordination committee was formed in this government but they have hardly met. Issues like the allocation of funds, giving powers to the ministers of state have not happened. These issues did create discontentment among MLAs. The MVA leadership should tackle these problems," said Atul Kulkarni, political observer and senior journalist.
So what are the options?
Option 1: NCP swings both ways
It has been a long-standing mystery in Maharashtra politics on whether Sharad Pawar and NCP will ever go with the BJP officially. In the past, Pramod Mahajan in open conferences said alliance with NCP couldn't happen because seat adjustment was difficult between Shiv Sena, BJP and NCP, but Pawar was ready to come with the BJP. Pawar also kept the aura of unpredictability alive around him and denied on record but remained chief of disaster management with Cabinet rank throughout the Vajpayee years. Even though NCP later formed alliance with Congress and formed government in Maharashtra, this suspicion around Pawar that he may go with the BJP helped him to bargain better with Congress.
In 2014, Pawar gave outside support to the BJP when the saffron party was falling short by 23 MLAs to form the government, which later he claimed he did to create permanent rift between Shiv Sena and the BJP. But the first option is the best bet for the BJP; they tried it last year. But because Sharad Pawar was not in favour, Ajit Pawar couldn't pull it off and this short-lived experiment collapsed in three days. At present, it looks like this option is in cold storage. This can only materialise if Sharad Pawar okays it. Currently, Pawar is powerful in the MVA government and looking at the BJP's earlier experience with allies, Pawar knows it well that he won't enjoy same position with the BJP. So, he has adjusted even with the administratively inexperienced Uddhav Thackeray and his government despite all its contradictions.
Option 2: Reviving 'natural' friend
In all possibilities, Shiv Sena has always been the BJP's natural ally. Even within the NDA, the BJP never had to face any ideological issue with Shiv Sena the way they faced it with the TDP or JD(U) or even AIADMK and DMK. But there was always a tussle of egos. When the BJP was weak in Maharashtra, it always faced humiliation from Shiv Sena, especially from the Thackerays. The BJP with conscious mind always looked the other way when Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray used to call them 'Kamala Bai', hinting that he is the man in the alliance.
Post-2014, as the equation changed, the BJP returned everything with interest. But Uddhav, unlike his father, accepted the political reality and kept waiting for the right opportunity. Before Pulwama, when the BJP was not so confident of winning 2019 Lok Sabha elections it sealed alliance with Shiv Sena only to later realise its mistake.
Now that Shiv Sena has ditched them to form the government, father and son are the main targets for BJP, seen in the targeting of Aditya Thackeray in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. None of the charges could be proved despite a CBI probe but BJP leaders made it clear that in the MVA government they are going to spare others but not the Thackerays.
This has created a rift between two parties which now seems unbridgeable. It clearly looks like that now the BJP has decided to solve 'Shiv Sena problem' once for all. The issue is not between the two parties but between two individuals -- Fadnavis and Uddhav. So, neither Shiv Sena nor the BJP would like to reconsider their relationship in near future.
Option 3: Search for a 'Jyotiraditya Scindia'
When expected options are closed then unexpected options are sought. It is a long shot but still it can be tried is what the BJP is thinking. Congress, even though part of alliance and surviving as junior-most partner in the MVA government, is clearly unhappy after initial euphoria of keeping the BJP away from power in Maharashtra. Many senior leaders like Ashok Chavan, Vijay Wadettiwar and Nitin Raut despite being Cabinet ministers in the Uddhav government are sulking as they think they have been sidelined both by the chief minister and his deputy Ajit Pawar.
The junior ministers and leaders from Congress have adjusted, but senior leaders who had witnessed golden days in the state are facing adjustment issues in the new political reality of the MVA government. They are not even getting a hearing from Congress leadership, including Rahul Gandhi. The BJP may look for a potential 'Jyotiraditya Scindia'; the only difference that Maharashtra will need more MLAs than Madhya Pradesh.