The political situation has moved rapidly in Maharashtra after the biennial MLC election held yesterday. Most people woke up this morning expecting Sanjay Raut to cry about BJP using money power to win an extra seat in the MLC election. Or the Congress to fret about the result and form yet another committee to discuss the defeat of senior leader from the SC community Chandrakant Handore. Instead we were treated to an altogether different scenario with the Sena’s Thane strongman starting a rebellion within the Sena.
Eknath Shinde was tipped to be the favorite for the Chief Minister post when the MVA was formed in 2019. But the Matoshri “kitchen cabinet” decided that Uddhav should be the the CM himself. It is also said the Congress and NCP did not accept Shinde as the CM face. Thus began the sidelining and cutting to size of Eknath Shinde in the Shiv Sena. This has played out multiple times within the Sena as Chhagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray was similarly sidelined and conditions created for their exit from the party. But it seems the Shiv Sena never expected Shinde to take the extreme step so quickly.
That the MVA government is unpopular at this moment is hardly a surprise. This government was formed illegitimately with the Shiv Sena aligning with ideological and political rivals NCP & Congress. The only way this government could have gained legitimacy in the eyes of the public was working for the welfare of the citizens. Instead the MVA government has been embroiled in monumental corruption and has showed indifference towards various sections of society, like the farmers, students, electricity consumers or traders.
Many Sena MLAs and workers especially from the rural areas of Marathwada, North Maharashtra and Western Maharashtra have been treated very badly by the NCP leaders and workers. Many Sena MLAs complain that the finance minister Ajit dada Pawar does not allot any funds for their assembly constituency. Sometime NCP district heads are able to get projects sanctioned from the state government, whereas the projects mooted by the Sena MLAs are ignored. Sena MLAs in rural areas have mainly faced the NCP and Congress in past elections.
These rural Sena MLAs fear for their political career in case the MVA alliance fights the next assembly election together. They fear losing their seat to the NCP and Congress or sabotage by the new allies. The Sena leadership has also been ignoring it’s MLAs for the last 2.5 years with Uddhav being notorious for not answering the calls from his ministers, forget his MLAs. Hence, you would find that most of the 35 Sena rebel MLAs are from rural areas. They feel that the way things are going, their chances of re-election are bleak.
Will the MVA government fall as a result of this rebellion or will the storm blow over? Hard to say as it is unclear if the 35 MLAs who are supposedly with Eknath Shinde stick with him, or will they come back to their parent party claiming they were forced to side with Shinde. Also the anti defection law comes into focus and the speaker could disqualify the rebel MLAs if the numbers do not satisfy the anti defection law. Any decision by the speaker will likely go to the courts and a long legal battle could loom ahead.
The BJP could bring a no-confidence motion against the MVA government and any move by the speaker could be crucial in determining if the MVA wins or loses the no-confidence motion. If numbers favor them, it remains to be seen if the BJP would want to form a government with the Sena rebels and independents or go for mid-term polls after dissolving the assembly. A decision on this would come from the top three viz. Modi, Shah and Nadda.
If Eknath Shinde is mollified and comes back, the MVA government would be saved but it would become a zombie government viz. dead but walking. All the parties are facing factionalism in some form or the other. Also trust between the three parties would be at an all time low. Such a government would be incapable of taking any major decisions and would meander along till the next crisis hits it. As for Eknath Shinde himself, the coterie close to Uddhav will try to finish Eknath Shinde’s political career bit by bit.
In case the MVA government survives this crisis and Shinde leaves the Sena, this would have a major impact on the Sena’s chances of winning the Thane Municipal corporation or the Kalyan-Dombivali municipal corporation and other small municipalities in the MMR region. If Shinde forms a seperate group of 10-15 MLAs and is able to get them re-elected, he can be an ally to the BJP. This is assuming he and his supporting MLAs do not join the BJP. This can have major implications as the Sena would be reduced to 45 MLAs in the assembly and the NCP may ask for the Chief Minister post given their superior numbers.
My gut feeling says that this crisis was not fueled by the BJP. Rather it was Shinde’s attempt at survival. The relevant question is why do it now. Shinde would have been in touch with the disgruntled Sena MLAs and would have brought them around to his plan for a long time. The immediate trigger for Shinde’s action seem to be the party keeping him away from the MLC election planning. Shinde must have been seeing the party’s attempts to cut down his stature for a long time and he must have decided to act before his political career is finished by Uddhav’s coterie.
How the BJP sees this opportunity remains a mystery. After the Ajit Pawar experience they would play their cards well and would commit only if Shinde can make the rebel MLAs stick with him. Would they try to form a government for the remainder of the assembly term or would the BJP want to go for snap polls, will be decided by the numbers of the rebel MLAs who stick with Shinde. Most independents won’t be in favor of re-election unless BJP promises them a BJP ticket in the forthcoming election.
However if the MVA government survives, it would become a lameduck government midway through it’s term. The focus would be on looting as much as they can and while they can. Governance will take a back seat and more rebellions across the three parties can be anticipated in the future.