Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | Maharashtra: The new ground zero of Indian politics

If you haven’t watched Sinhasan (Throne), the cult Marathi film by Jabbar Patel released in 1979, then you missed out on a fantastic cinema capturing the prevailing cynical rough and tumble of politics in Maharashtra. But don’t sweat; all you have to do is to log in to what is playing out in Maharashtra right now: where real life is copying reel life.

Overnight developments left almost everyone stunned, except those who carried out the audacious political coup. On Friday night, Shiv Sena was all set to lead a coalition in alliance with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress, shaky no doubt, in Maharashtra; most believed it was done and dusted. Come Saturday morning, the troika were left red-faced as news filtered in about how the governor had sworn in a government. Their bete noire, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), overnight forced a split in the NCP by winning over Ajit Pawar, its legislative leader and nephew of NCP boss Sharad Pawar. Consequently, Devendra Fadnavis is back in the chair as chief minister.

Uncannily, the developments are very similar to the plot etched by Patel in his film—which had an ensemble of some of the finest actors in Indian cinema. In Sinhasan, an incumbent chief minister distracted with the task of dealing with farm distress brought about due to a prolonged drought (tragic that 40 years later, the same story continues to play out in the agrarian sector), faces a revolt from a section of the legislators in the party. Eventually, the revolt is quelled, but not without the attendant cynical machinations of quid pro quo. Sound familiar?

Regardless of the fate of the next government, it is clear that the Maharashtra episode has formalized some new ground rules for Indian politics. Taken together, these will define the emerging polity. Purists may baulk, but it is the likely new normal.

Undoubtedly, the BJP has once again reiterated its claim to be the new pole of Indian politics. It has now become the party to beat as the Narendra Modi juggernaut continues to notch up electoral gains. It is not just the clueless Opposition, but even the allies are uneasy and nervous about the ascending BJP. Not surprising then that many political players are embracing a new normal in what is now increasingly a very high stakes game as the foundations of Indian polity are being recast. In the process, the political parties are emphasizing the transactional approach to electoral power.

Exactly why BJP’s rivals are now willing to shed their long-held ideological positions to realise their primary objective of stalling if not stopping the Modi juggernaut. Presume they realise that this strategy is a broadsword—cuts on both sides.

In the case of Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena, the more right-wing among the Saffron twins, would normally have been untouchable, particularly for the Congress party—which despite its occasional soft Hindutva stance has shunned the saffron party. Yet, driven by the maxim of “enemy’s enemy is my friend" the Congress party struck what it would have previously described as an “unholy" alliance with the ultra-right Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Overnight it has, forever, diluted its own USP in the fight against BJP.

From BJP’s point of view, the Maharashtra gambit by its rivals, will accelerate the mainstreaming of the party. Already, most political parties have begun to align with the larger national narrative—like the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir—being set by the BJP as it expands its national electoral footprint. By entering into an electoral alliance with the Shiv Sena, this rightward shift in India’s polity may just have got another leg-up.

In the final analysis then it is clear that regardless of what transpires in government formation in Maharashtra, the developments over the last few weeks underline the reset underway in Indian politics. A logical corollary is that a transformation in the economic ideology—with a greater play for market forces—won’t be long in coming.

Anil Padmanabhan is managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.

Comments are welcome at anil.p@livemint.com

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