With his resignation as Chief Minister of Maharashtra on June 29, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has brought down the curtains on 945 days of leading a coalition government that was as ambitious as it was precarious, and, of course, unimaginable before November 2019.
The fear of poaching legislators and accusations of poaching have dominated the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA)’s term. In its two years and seven months of existence, the MVA has accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of poaching, the Shiv Sena has accused its ally the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of poaching, and the Congress has accused the NCP of the same. Right from its inception till its fall, the ghosts of poaching haunted the MVA. If in November 2019, it was Shiv Sena’s Eknath Shinde who managed to ‘catch’ an NCP MLA who was about to jump ship, in 2022, Shinde is the leader for the rebel Shiv Sena MLAs. Poaching or not, it appears the MVA was destined to collapse.
The Congress has come out declaring that the rebel Shiv Sena MLAs along with the BJP, which tacitly supported the rebels, have gone against ‘Rights of the Voters’. The Congress is right and wrong here — never mind that it is rich of the grand old party to talk about respecting the people’s mandate when India’s political history is littered with instances of the Congress-run Centre dismissing state governments.
The Congress is right because in allegedly engineering the rebellion and supporting the Shiv Sena rebels, the BJP is dangerously pushing the limits, and thus testing the tenacity, of India’s electoral democracy, and government formation practices.
By the virtue of running the Union government, the ruling party is expected to strengthen democracy. Toppling a coalition government might be a politically shrewd move, but it is not a democratically just one. If and when the BJP forms the government in Maharashtra with the support of the rebel MLAs, it would not be fair and square.
This brings us to why the Congress is wrong in its lament. Going into the 2019 assembly elections the BJP and Shiv Sena were allies, and had a pre-poll understanding based on which both parties approached their voters. Both parties fought the election against the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). If the Shiv Sena (for whatever reason) broke ranks with the BJP, was it throwing democratic morality to the winds in joining hands with the NCP and the Congress? Where was ‘Rights of the Voters’ when the MVA formed a government?
The Shiv Sena could now emerge stronger from this debacle if Uddhav Thackeray manages to retain his hold over the party, and (more importantly) respect within the party. That’s because without the Thackerays, the Shiv Sena could be subsumed by the BJP. The BJP, led by former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra, is celebrating the fall of the MVA government. The NCP would be ring-fencing its leaders because it could be the next in line to see an internal implosion.
Political parties, in the process of toppling governments and forming new ones, are not honouring the ‘Rights of the Voters’, but are protecting their respective vote-banks. It’s a subtle but important difference.