Millennium Post

A thrilling finish

Essentially, after all the political maneuverings, the government in Maharashtra continues to be headed by 'Shiv Sena', with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) replacing the coalition members — the INC and the NCP. More striking is the replacement claimed by Eknath Shinde, as a true descendent of Bal Saheb Thackrey and the new leader of Shiv Sena. Loosely, it can also be said that Shinde has replaced Devendra Fadnavis as CM face, almost in an unanticipated fashion. Equations have changed drastically in Maharashtra but some core things remain the same. The BJP is known for floating political shocks and surprises, and what it has done in Maharashtra, was beyond anyone's imagination. Despite having 106 seats in its kitty, the party handed over the Chief Minister's chair to Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde — who merely had the support of 39 MLAs. By doing this, the BJP claims to have sent a message that its fight is not for the chair but for the ideology. This, however, cannot be the sole motive behind the saffron party's sacrifice. Government formation in Maharashtra is reminiscent of the government formation after the last Bihar Assembly elections, where the BJP had allowed JDU's Nitish Kumar to continue as CM despite being the single largest party (at that time). Irrespective of the deft and hold of Nitish Kumar in Bihar, the BJP has managed to grab a significant part of JDU's political landscape — further weakening the party that has been facing anti-incumbency for over two decades. The fight in Bihar now is by and large limited primarily between the BJP and the RJD. Drawing parallels, one can see the potential weakening of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, which is now divided in two factions. While the Thackrey faction has partially lost its credibility as a party crudely standing for Hindutva by aligning with arch rivals the NCP and the INC, Shinde faces an uphill task of claiming Bal Saheb Thackrey's legacy. Loyalty of Shiv Sena voters is based on two factors — legacy of Bal Thackrey and Hindutva. Both the factions have control over one and are vying for the other. Else, why would Uddhav reserve the decision of changing the names of Aurangabad and Osmanabad in the last days of his term, and why would Shinde not tire of mentioning Bal Thackrey on every second occasion! Given that complete swing of voters towards any of the two factions is improbable, Shiv Sena's voter base will stand divided in the future. The future contests in Maharashtra may even be primarily reduced among the BJP, the INC and the NCP — with the BJP, as a Hindutva alternative, claiming much of Shiv Sena's political landscape. The timing of the political upheaval in Maharashtra also suits the saffron party. With Shiv Sena's support, the path forward to presidential elections will be smoother for the BJP. Amid all this, one feels bad for Devendra Fadnavis — the man who had been busy engineering the collapse of the MVA government for almost two-and-a-half years. After he was forced to resign from the CM's post in 2019 on account of the then unthinkable coalition between Shiv Sena, the NCP and the INC, Fadnavis had resolved that, "Mee Punha Yeil" (I shall come back). Though he is not back as the CM, he has managed to bring down the MVA government. Until shortly before the oath-taking ceremony, he asserted that he wouldn't be a part of the government. It is unusual that the Central leaders of the BJP — including JP Nadda and Amit Shah — had to publicly tweet the 'directions' for Fadnavis to assume Deputy CM's role. As things stand today for Fadnavis, he is demoted on Delhi's command and chances of him being incorporated in the Central leadership are shut for the time being. It cannot be ruled out that the Central leadership is wary of the growing stature of regional leaders, and it also requires to balance the powers of Eknath Shinde in the state. The BJP's move in Maharashtra is surprising but not without rationale. It remains to be seen if the new government can sustain political storms in coming years. The most crucial thing to notice, however, will be the way Sena bifurcation pans out.

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