State Scan

Caught in a tangle

With the BJP-led government caught in an internal tussle with its ally, the
Shiv Sena, and growing mistrust between the Congress and the NCP,
it is the people who are the ultimate losers

by K Subramanium

CALL it stalemate, gridlock or deadlock, the seeds of the present state of affairs in Maharashtra lie in the hung verdict of the assembly elections of October 2014. In hindsight, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) decision to snap its decades-old alliance with its longstanding ally, the Shiv Sena, proved correct. But it did not help the party catapult itself to power all on its own, falling short of the majority by 25-odd seats. Some miscalculations on some seats left the BJP with no other choice but to once again woo its estranged ally to stabilise its government.

It took almost a month for the BJP to arm-twist its ally into joining the government. The Sena too needed the reins of power as civic elections to key municipal corporations like BMC, Kalyan-Dombivali, Thane and Aurangabad, were due in 2015-16, or are slated to be held by 2017. In a bid to maintain its separate identity and wary of what the BJP might do next, the Sena is still smarting in its new avatar of ”opposition in treasury benches”, or “ruling opposition”.

Attacking the BJP-led government—of which it is a part both in Maharashtra and at the Centre—often has raised questions about the Sena’s intentions and its ability to solve people’s problems. The BJP is not letting go a single opportunity to deflate the Sena’s ego, be it over the open space policy, reviving Mumbai’s nightlife, open-air gym at Marine Drive and, the latest, the fire at Deonar’s dumping ground. The 2017 BMC elections should prove to be a breaking point if either of the two get power on their own. The single biggest difference between the two estranged allies is that while the Sena has its shakhas right till the ward level, the same cannot be said about the BJP and other political parties, at least in Mumbai and neighbouring Thane city.

In the absence of a clear mandated opposition—and an opposition that appears to be hopelessly divided too—the squabbling BJP-Sena government will continue at least for the time being, until and unless they decide to throw it away. Or, the wily Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar might decide to recall his party rebels who left the party fold to contest the Assembly elections and won on the BJP ticket. A sizeable number of the 123 BJP MLAs are erstwhile NCP or Congress legislators. At present, the NCP with its numerical superiority in the Maharashtra Legislative Council is calling the shots in all respects. A senior BJP minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted that this government is surviving at the mercy of the NCP.

Another reason for the lacklustre performance of the BJP-led government has been a pronounced disconnect between the party’s top leadership and its cadre at the grassroots. Despite the 1.25 crore registered active members in the state, the party fared badly in the recent civic polls. The Sena too is solely dependent on Uddhav Thackeray and his son, Aditya, to deliver power in elections. Although it is grabbing the headlines by attacking the BJP and the government, it has no other alternative to offer to the public at large. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has quietly been preparing for the 2017 BMC elections. Only time will tell if the AAP can upset the applecart of the BJP and Sena.

A senior BJP minister, speaking on condition
of anonymity, admitted that this government is surviving at
the mercy of the NCP

EVEN before the Assembly election results were announced in October 2014, the NCP declared its unconditional support to the BJP for forming the next government. The move underlined the notion that the NCP cannot survive without power. It had a ripple effect, putting the BJP in an awkward situation as it had fought the elections on the issue of the alleged corruption of NCP leaders. Secondly, initially it widened the rift between the BJP and Sena. Thirdly, the distrust and suspicion of the Congress towards the NCP has only grown. And lastly, the NCP has been bailing the Devendra Fadnavis government out of many tricky legislative tangles. The 2014 Assembly election has created a strange situation where the Congress is the main opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and the NCP controls the Upper House. In the last monsoon session, the BJP helped the NCP in ousting Shivajirao Deshmukh, a Congressman, from the Council chairman’s post.

The situation is such that the allies are not trusting each other anymore and the bureaucracy is having a field day. It is more so because of the fact that, barring senior BJP ministers Eknath Khadse, Prakash Mehta, Sudhir Mungantiwar, Vishnu Savara and the Sena’s Diwakar Raote and Ramdas Kadam, none has had any previous experience of being in the government. These and some other junior ministers of state had been ministers in the previous Sena-led government in 1995-99. In contrast, almost all the NCP legislators have had a fairly long experience of being in government.

Most of the greenhorn BJP ministers are not even aware of the enormous power that they command. One often finds them and the first-time Sena ministers asking for directions from the administrative staff and the bureaucracy on matters of governance. If you have senior ministers calling bureaucrats and lower-ranking officials ‘Sir’, or the minister himself walking down to the bureaucrat’s office, it speaks volumes of the way the government is functioning. Recently, a senior bureaucrat simply went on a foreign tour informing the senior Sena minister who heads her department after she had already left India.

What more can underline this than Chief Minister Fadnavis’s own admission that the administration is refusing to fall in line—he twice made his exasperation known publicly. He finally cracked the whip on senior bureaucrats, asking them to undertake compulsory field visits to offices coming under the jurisdiction of their respective departments and report back on measures to improve the administration. There are several posts in the administration that are lying vacant for quite some time now.

The biggest examples of the bureaucracy and the administration taking the government for a ride have been the “oversight” in granting tariff waivers to JSW and the infamous “Government Resolution on Sedition” slapped against the media and anyone daring to speak against the government. In most cases, it was left to the Chief Minister to do the firefighting. Even as the government fumbles, the opposition, the Congress, is in no position to exploit the situation as it is bereft of any known leader with a pan-Maharashtra appeal.

The situation is such that the allies are not trusting each
other anymore and the bureaucracy is having a field day

ONE thing, though, should be noted here; in the recent round of civic elections in Maharashtra, the Congress emerged as the number one political party. That means that though the BJP may have succeeded in “Congress Mukta Bharat” at the Lok Sabha and Assembly level, it has not succeeded in removing the Congress base at the grassroots level and its support lifeline, the cooperative sector. Despite this being the case, its leaders continue to be at loggerheads with each other, trying to undermine each other’s authority. The latest example of it has been the Sanjay Nirupam-edited controversial issue of Congress Darshan.

In such a situation, where no party has a mass leader left, NCP chief Sharad Pawar is sitting pretty. But Pawar is saddled with the ticklish issue of how to hand over the reins of his party, and to whom and how. He needs the BJP to stay politically
relevant and is touted as being one of the reasons behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling on Pawar’s home turf in Baramati.

When it comes to showcasing public welfare schemes, the BJP-Sena led government has nothing much to show. The only initiative that it can tout is its flagship programme, the ‘Jalayukta Shivar’ (recharging of village groundwater reservoirs) to tackle drought conditions in the state. The rest of the announcements are more of a populist nature rather than having any impact on public life. Even the infrastructure projects are yet to get off the ground. The worst is yet to come. For the fourth consecutive year, the monsoon has failed. Already the water crisis is looming large on the horizon and is going to get worse as the government faces a stormy annual budget session.

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