NAGPUR, Maharashtra— As the stalemate over government formation in Maharashtra entered its 14th day, the incumbent Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and the Bhartiya Janata Party appear to be scrambling in the dark despite emerging as the single largest party after the October 21 state elections.
The term of incumbent Maharashtra assembly ends tomorrow night and BJP has already indicated that the president’s rule will be imposed if there is no end to the impasse by this time.
Senior BJP leaders Sudhir Mungantiwar, who was first to drop indications of president’s rule, met Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Khoshiyari on Thursday along with state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil, however, Mungantiwar did not stake the claim for government formation.
Here’s a look at what this stalemate means for major political players in Maharashtra.
The person most affected by the current political stalemate in Maharashtra, is incumbent CM Devendra Fadnavis.
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Until October 24, a day on which the assembly election results were declared, Fadnavis appeared invincible. He led the BJP’s high voltage campaign aggressively and travelled across the state as a part of his “Maha Janadesh Yatra”. As the election campaign began, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah made it clear that Fadnavis will continue to be the CM in Maharashtra after the election, which many considered a forgone conclusion, due to lack of any challenge from opposition to the BJP.
However, Fadnavis’s fortune fluctuated within hours of election results on October 24. The BJP was nowhere near the halfway figure of 145 in 288 members Maharashtra assembly. Despite being the only party with more than 100 MLAs (105 MLAs) it was clear that the next government will depend on its alliance partner Shiv Sena’s support.
Fadanvis, who did not have any ministerial experience before taking over as the chief minister, ruled the state with an iron fist. He cut down each of his rivals inside his own party. Senior BJP leaders Eknath Khadse and Vinod Tawade, who were seen as possible contenders of the chief minister’s post, were denied ticket in this election. Gopinath Munde’s daughter Pankaja, who was also considered one of the contenders for the CM post, lost her election from Parli constituency in Beed district. His way of dealing with his allies was not very sophisticated. He forced smaller allies to contest the election on BJP’s symbol and pushed Shiv Sena into settling for 124 seats. On the eve of the election, he and his ministers engineered a large number of defections from the opposition in an attempt to isolate NCP and Congress. But now Fadnavis finds himself isolated even inside the BJP.
As Shiv Sena continues to be adamant for the post of the chief minister, Fadnavis has knocked on every door in the last two weeks. He met Amit Shah in Delhi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in Nagpur earlier this week. He also had to call on union minister Nitin Gadkari, who is considered his rival within the BJP.
Such is Fadnavis’s condition that he is not able to speak his mind. During the run-up to the election campaign, he targeted all his opponents including Sharad Pawar. In the last five years, he did not miss a chance to isolate Shiv Sena be it the BMC election campaign or seat-sharing talks.
“Each of his methods, that he used in the last 5 years, is backfiring on him now. He was overconfident. An election report, sent to BJP’s central leadership after election, mentioned some instances where CM’s decision had negative impacts on the BJP’s performance in this election. Due to the way he handled the state and the party in the last five years, there is a big section inside his own party which would like to see a different leadership at the government and party’s state level as well. Uddhav (Thackeray) also knows how sharp and cleaver Fadnavis is. I won’t be surprised if he gives up the demand of CM post on the condition of getting a different CM,” a senior BJP MLC told HuffPost India requesting anonymity.
The MLC added that Fadnavis’s isolation isn’t a new thing.
“Even while running the government, he was isolated. Except for Girish Mahajan (State Irrigation Minister) and a few other young ministers like Ram Shinde and Parinay Fuke, not many in the party and the cabinet trusted him and neither did he trust any of them. I would say he was more isolated than Prithviraj Chavan who also perceived to be running the state by sidelining everyone including NCP,” he added.
Almost two weeks of stalemate suggest one clear thing: Either Fadnavis could lose his post and even if he comes back, he will have a tough time ruling the state as he is faced with a strong opposition under Sharad Pawar and an emboldened ally like Shiv Sena.
Shiv Sena, Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray
Despite getting seven fewer seats than the last assembly election, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was quick to sense that the next government in Maharashtra could not be formed without its support. Even as the counting of votes was in progress, Uddhav addressed a press conference individually and made clear his intentions that he would not settle for less this time.
The next day, he made it clear that he won’t settle for anything less than the state’s chief minister’s post and he has maintained this stance. Thackeray has also stuck to his demand of 50-50% share in power, a deal he claims even BJP chief Amit Shah agreed upon at the time of seat-sharing negotiations before the Lok Sabha election. He has fielded Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut to deal with BJP publically and Raut has done the job more than effectively in the last 14 days.
Every single day since October 24, Raut gives early morning shocks to BJP leaders through his hard-hitting columns in Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana, which he edits. Every second day he is addressing press conferences and cornering BJP on various issue.
However, Uddhav’s son and newly election MLA from Worli assembly seat in Mumbai, Aaditya, has preferred to stay away from political slugfest. Raut has indicated that if Shiv Sena gets the CM post it would be Aaditya who will get it. “It’s now or never,” Raut said when asked if Aaditya will be the chief minister.
Forced to play a junior player in last five years, cornered on almost all fronts including inside the cabinet which forced its minister to keep resignations letter ready in their pockets and threatened on its home turf of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (the BJP came very close to dislodging Shiv Sena from BMC in 2017), the Shiv Sena could not have captured this opportunity more effectively. The only thing it needs to be guarded about is defections and poaching of MLAs. An alert Uddhav moved all his MLAs to a hotel in Mumbai on Thursday.
Whatever happens in Maharashtra in the next few weeks, it is this soft-spoken photographer son of Bal Thackeray, who holds the key to the power in the state.
The 79-year-old was facing the toughest election of his life a month ago and was hit by large scale defection from his party. Even his close relatives had dumped him and he was facing troubles on his family front. But NCP chief Sharad Pawar exhibited how an election is contested and almost single-handedly turned the tables on BJP which is now scrambling for numbers. From addressing rallies in heavy rains to crisscrossing the state despite a leg injury to making hand gestures indicating CM as a lesser man, Pawar not only dominated news headlines but the election as well. With 54 MLAs in the state assembly, Pawar’s party will be the principal opposition party in the state if BJP-Shiv Sena form a government. But the way Shiv Sena is stretching political impasse over government formation, Pawar’s role could be crucial if there is any chance a non-BJP government is formed in the state.
Right after the election results in 2014, Pawar had declared unconditional support to the BJP which had raised doubts over his secular credentials. But he has more than made up for his past mistakes this time.
“The mandate for us is to sit in the opposition,” he has reiterated this week.
Even its own leaders had left behind any hopes they had for the grand old party before this election, but the results showed the Congress still has ground support among the masses. The party got 44 seats in an election where no one except Rahul Gandhi came to campaign and all of its senior state leaders were restricted to their own assembly segments.
With political impasse over the government formation between the BJP and Shiv Sena, a group in the Congress is leaning towards supporting Shiv Sena and NCP to keep BJP out of power.
However, Congress’ central leadership appears in no mood for any adventure as long as Shiv Sena continues to be a part of the NDA. The party is yet to elect its leader of the legislative party and owes its electoral performance to the combative Sharad Pawar who ran a high voltage campaign. With 44 seats, it is placed at the fourth position in the assembly and will have to give the post of leader of the opposition to NCP. But with 44 seats, there couldn’t be a better time to revive the organisation and promote new leadership in a state once considered its bastion.