It’s the silly political season where hypocrisy is the new black. Forget ideology and corruption stigma. Till last month it was unthinkable that arch enemies who distrust each other would align. Today, all is kosher with friends and enemies all rolled into one. First, BJP-Shiv Sena’s Amar Prem was shredded to a Kati Patang, glued together first by the BJP-NCP 80-hours tango and now Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress to the strains of Hum Sath Sath Hain!
Questionably, is it possible to be optimistic about a ‘secular’ NCP-Congress and ‘communal’ Shiv Sena Government in Maharashtra which has fragile plastered all over it? Not really. Formed, as it is, purely on rank opportunism and a putrid desire for the luscious mistress named power. If it goes against Constitutional ethos, dilutes public mandate and cheats the electoral mandate, so be it.
Indeed, one wonders how the khichri-poles-apart Government will be able to project an image of cohesiveness when there are many contentious issues where the allies stand at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.
Think. For a supposedly ‘secular’ Congress to cohabit with an unabashedly rabid fried-in-communal-ghee Shiv Sena, it has been ideologically and bitterly opposed to will entail dumping many of its principles.
True, in the past, it aligned with ‘secular’ Gowda’s and Gujaral’s National Front Governments, Mamata’s Trinimool in Bengal, Nitish’s JD(U) in Bihar and Gowda’s JD(S) in Karnataka to keep ‘communal’ BJP out. Today, it is willing to align with a Hindutva outfit Sena to keep its arch rival out. No matter, secular friends become communal foes when they join BJP and vice versa.
Two, it could alienate one of its core constituency, Muslims. Already, its ally in Kerala, IUML has upped its ante against the Sena. Three, there is no assurance how long its alliance with the right-wing volatile Party will last, given its core politics spells violence. Yet with a tally down to 52 in the Lok Sabha and 44 in the Maharashtra Assembly, the Congress has nothing to lose but could end up gaining. A power stint in Maharashtra holds a slim ray of hope that all is not yet lost for the Party and could boost its morale for the next battles in Jharkhand and Delhi.
If there is an ideological contradiction in the Congress and NCP supporting a Shiv Sena Government, there is also adhesive: Shared fear that the BJP is out to finish them. Succinctly, anti-BJPism is the new paradigm and has become a raison d’être for non-BJP Parties, to bond together.
As, friends and foes alike don’t trust Modi-Shah. Whereby, the new polarisation is not Hindutva vs secularism, since Congress, NCP, JD(U) etc have embraced saffron. Politics, is now divided between those who surrender before Modi-Shah and those who fight back.
For the Congress, whose irrelevance in Indian politics threatens its very existence, there was no option but to trust Pawar and go with the Sena. At a time when the Modi Government is putting its leaders in jail, the Congress had to swallow it’s ‘secular’ pride to prevent a BJP Sarkar in Maharashtra. Even, if it meant befriending the Sena.
The jury is still out whether it is kosher with doing business with a volatile, violent communal Party? Is it a leap of faith or one into wilderness? Time will tell.
Ironically, Shiv Sena is today the darling of liberals. Yet, it is politically expedient known to flirt with rivals. Remember, it was the Congress’s creation to counter Leftists and is known to changing its political focus from time to time. First, it identified South Indians as enemies of ‘Marathi manoos’, followed by Communists, Biharis, Muslims etc.
Liberals are presuming the Sena will girgit-like change colours overnight to stay in power. But this might not be easy. It is not happy with Congress-NCP plan to give 5% reservation to Muslims in jobs and education among other pulls and pressures. Recall the Party played more holier-than-thou than the BJP on Ram Mandir, National Register of Citizens and a Bharat Ratna to Hindu Mahasabha ideologue Savarkar.
Now that that it has committed to “secularism” the Sena will have to forget its boast of demolishing Babri Masjid in “just 17 minutes”, permit system for Biharis coming to Mumbai and can’t hail Godse as a ‘patriot’. Already, Thackeray has toned down his earlier stridency and is making the right moves. He called off his Ayodhya trip and could oppose the Citizenship Bill.
Certainly, it is a win-win situation for it in the short term. It has succeeded in being one-up against estranged ally BJP and taken revenge for its eviction as numero uno by Big Brother in Mumbai. In the initial years, BJP played second fiddle to the Sena. Later, the former made clear the alliance was based on a use-and-throw principle. Now the Sainiks, preen over the latter’s retribution.
However, in the long run the Party could end up a loser. By trying to go mainstream to check the BJP, it could fall between two stools. Of course, the BJP will leave no stone unturned to embarrass its friend-turned-foe by taking the Hindutva high ground and could strategically use the MNS against Sena.
Undoubtedly, NCP’s Pawar is the man of match. But for his deft, nimble footwork and back-room deal-cutting ability the alliance would never have happened. Recall, he broke from the Congress when Sonia was anointed President only to align with the Party in UPA I and II and subsequent Maharashtra polls and shared power in the State.
He has fought the BJP and Shiv Sena with everyone calling each other crooks, yet he calls Modi a ‘friend’ and called on him recently, ostensibly to discuss farmers distress even as the Enforcement Directorate named him in a scam on the poll eve. Confusing matters further, the Modi Sarkar honoured him with a Padma Vibhushan some time back. With the Thackerays Pawar enjoys a “business-like” political relationship and family ties.
It is too simplistic to believe that the Modi-Shah duo threw in the towel. There has to be method in this madness. One possibility is that it feels a Government of disparate Parties would not be able to withstand the pulls and pressures of differing ideologies. Two, it could vilify the Sena for giving up the Hindutva cause and aligning with the anti-Hindu brigade. Whereby, it could come to occupy the pole position as the sole defendant of the Hindu faith.
On the flip side, the loss in Maharashtra is not only a big blow to the BJP’s prestige but has also dented its invincibility among people as it comes six months after its Lok Sabha triumph. Coming on the heels of Haryana where it too failed to secure a majority, this setback could be interpreted as a sign that the Party’s forward march is slowing down. Now all eyes are on Jharkhand where it needs a win badly.
The Maharashtra lesson? Parties need to wield power lightly for if you push people with nothing to lose, they will hit back for sheer survival. Remember, victory, has many fathers but defeat is an orphan. It remains to be seen whether greed for power will allow the motley crowd of disparate self-seeking Parties to remain united because unity can be broken with a flick of the finger. Our polity needs to remember that political fevicol is not the binder for a nation’s moral and ideological fabric. Nor do quick fix remedies provide any relief!