Now that Devendra Fadnavis of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has quit as chief minister of Maharashtra, as has his deputy Ajit Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), an end to the unseemly political drama in the state finally seems in sight. The Saturday morning coup that the two appeared to have pulled off fell apart on Tuesday within hours of the Supreme Court asking for a Wednesday floor test for their government to prove it had majority support in the assembly. Clearly, the BJP was short of the 144-vote halfway mark. The twin resignations lend some credence to placards of “We are 162" held up at Monday’s show of unity in Mumbai by the so-called Maha Vikas Aghadi, a three-way coalition led by the BJP’s ex-ally Shiv Sena with the Congress and Sharad Pawar-led NCP as partners. In all likelihood, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray will be the chief minister of this alternate formation. It is not clear if Ajit Pawar’s sudden switchover to the BJP camp, which was expected to split the NCP, could still get in the way of a Sena-led government. But a political tug of war that lasted for more than a month after the Sena-BJP breakup is now in its final moments.
Observers are exhausted and appalled by what they have seen. None of the political parties in the fray has emerged from this episode smelling of roses. The ease with which principles and ideologies were abandoned in joining hands with political opponents smacked of a brazen lust for power in a state seen as a prized catch for politicians keen to divvy up the financial spoils of high office. Voters could only gawk as the rightist Sena gave up its ideological stance in reaching out openly to the avowedly centre-left Congress and NCP for political support, and their jaws would only have dropped further to find the BJP in cahoots with an NCP rebel who was allegedly embroiled in various cases of corruption. Not only was the poll mandate of the electorate summarily cast aside, it became clear that the campaigns run by these parties were mostly sham. All this has worsened people’s disillusionment with politics in general and their relevance in particular, a trend of cynicism that could imperil democracy if left unchecked.
In an ideal scenario, fresh elections should have been called after the Sena snapped ties with the BJP, as that combination was on the ballot, with the Congress and NCP as the anti-incumbency option. If no majority is proven in the assembly now, this could still offer a way out. If it is proven, as it probably will be, no party would have much reason to celebrate, given the battering all their images have taken. From a national perspective, while the BJP must reflect on its conduct and ability to retain allies, perhaps the worst affected, ironically, is a party that joined the game ambivalently and then tried to keep a low profile—the Congress. In letting its legislators get corralled into a hall full of politicians with arms extended in pledges of loyalty to a Sena-led alliance without a visible common agenda, India’s grand old party risked losing its distinction of staying resolutely aloof from right-wing forces. Not that other parties don’t have to explain their somersaults. They all do. But for now, it is not the differences between parties that are in focus, but their similarities, especially when it comes to what they seem to care about above all else: the exercise of power.