Maha Mess: The BJP Traps the Sena Tiger

The fracture in the Shiv Sena shows the vulnerability of ideologically ambiguous family owned enterprises to predatory and hostile bids funded by political venture capital.

By Shankkar Aiyar |Published: 26th June 2022 01:27 AM |

History, it is said, does not repeat itself but it often rhymes.

The story of the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP alliance began with a failed or should we say a recalled rebellion in the NCP. Its end two and half years later is being defined by a rebellion in the Shiv Sena. In 2019, the NCP along with the Shiv Sena outwitted the BJP to seize power. In 2022, the BJP mounted a hunt and exacted revenge on the Shiv Sena by luring Eknath Shinde and trapping the political tiger by its tail.

The New Indian Express | ANI Photo

The tumultuous rise and fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance holds some instructive lessons for political parties and throws up questions worth attention. Here are some of them presented in Art Buchwald style.

Like the saga presents a tutorial in risk management for all those dreaming, desiring and designing a grand alliance against the Modi Juggernaut in 2024. The BJP is bound to deploy the collapse of the MVA under the weight of contradictions and alleged corruption as a case study in its messaging against the rise of opportunistic alliances — regionally or nationally.

Like the MVA is a case study for political entrepreneurship and opportunism. Each party has been a vitriolic critic of the other. The Shiv Sena, originally propped by the Congress to fight the communists, hounded the Congress from Mumbai and emerged as a major force in the 1980s riding the Hindutva plank. Its rise was enabled by the merger of Congress (I) and Congress (S) in 1988 which left the opposition space vacant. The Congress (S), or Pawar Congress as it was known, was the earlier avataar of the NCP which was born in 1999 against the “foreign leadership” of Congress.

Like the BJP is armed with both Plan A and Plan B. Plan A rests on the hope that it will manage to elect a Speaker of its choice, defeat the Thackeray-led government in a confidence vote on the floor of the House and anoint Devendra Fadnavis for yet another double-engine sarkar — and that silences all speculation about the status and stature of Devendra Fadnavis.

Like clearly the road ahead is littered with challenges. The interpretation of the law on defection by different state assemblies and the cases that followed present a spectre of uncertainty. Having bided their time the party would like to avoid aggravation — street protests, mayhem in the house, litigation. Ergo there is Plan B — President’s Rule and polls with Gujarat.

Like the opposition has been crying hoarse about the use of agencies to corner political opponents. But the fact is the design of this paradigm, of deploying agencies as alliance hounds, was fine-tuned during the UPA regime. At the heart of political pelf — enabled by discretionary powers — is the cash-and-carry model of funding politics. The trouble is corruption at whatever level, whether alleged, real, perceived or proven, does come to haunt regimes like Achilles’ heel.

Like Sharad Pawar would have factored the split and topple formula in his risk matrix. After all Pawar is the pioneer of hostile takeovers — in 1978, he split the party, toppled the Vasantdada Patil regime to emerge as the youngest CM of Maharashtra under the rainbow coalition called Progressive Democratic Front. What is surprising is that the alliance was caught napping even though the raids index was flashing amber and red.

Like in rebellions it is instructive to note the evolution of what is originally an accepted decision or a practice into a grievance worth rebelling against. One of the alleged complaints in Maharashtra is the off-shoring of ministerial powers to extra-constitutional entities within the party framework. The delayed response suggests the catalyst is often the distance from polls and the incentive to protest.

Like the fracture in the Shiv Sena shows how vulnerable ideologically ambiguous family owned enterprises are to predatory and hostile bids funded by political venture capital. India’s regional parties are largely family-run enterprises typically built around the brand equity of one person. Given that debate and deliberation is conspicuous by its absence the “electable” are open to call and put options.

Like one of the faultlines of Indian politics is that none of the regional parties ruling in the states is a torch-bearer for the idea of inner-party democracy. Typically strategic decisions are taken at the top and forced down the throats of the cadres creating a fertile ground for sowing the seeds of rebellion.

Like there is merit in noting that exceptions often prove the rule. The one party which has thus far been immune to the campaigns of the BJP is the Naveen Patnaik-led outfit, Biju Janata Dal. The enigmatic Patnaik who has been in power as chief minister of Odisha for over 8100 days has outperformed the Congress and outfoxed the BJP following their split. More importantly, he has consistently won a majority for the party and managed to maintain the flock for over two decades.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the maximum number of innovative solutions in politics is most probably around the provisions of the anti-defection law. There is the Maharashtra model, the Goa model, the Manipur model, the Arunachal model. And interpretations depend on the circumstances and court rulings. It does beg the question whether the person who elects the representative in the first instance has a say at all!

Shankkar Aiyar, political economy analyst, is author of ‘Accidental India’, ‘Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12-Digit Revolution’ and ‘The Gated Republic –India’s Public Policy Failures and Private Solutions’. You can email him at shankkar.aiyar@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @ShankkarAiyar. His previous columns can be found here. This column was first published here.

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Shankkar Aiyar

Journalist-Analyst. Author of ‘Accidental India, ‘Áadhaar: A Biometric History’ and ‘The Gated Republic’. Studying how politics rules the economics of people!