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Politics | BJP on the back foot in Maharashtra

In just over a month the BJP has gone from being the strongest party in Maharashtra to becoming the most vulnerable and as electorally weak as the others.

December 17, 2019 / 11:13 AM IST
Representative Image

Representative Image

Sujata Anandan

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and particularly its former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, are appearing to be sore losers. After much obstinacy and an overconfidence about its relationship with the Shiv Sena, Fadnavis has been on a spree of interviews to the media severely criticising the Shiv Sena and even trying to drive a wedge between the Sena and the Congress. The Savarkar issue, for a few hours on December 14, seemed to have given the BJP an opening as its leaders asked the Sena to choose between the government and their ideology. However, within 24 hours it was clear that the Sena would not take the bait.

On December 14, at the Congress’ Bharat Bachao Rally in New Delhi, former party President Rahul Gandhi said his name was ‘Rahul Gandhi and not Rahul Savarkar’, and that he would not apologise for his remarks at a campaign rally in Jharkhand wherein he raised concerns about the disturbingly frequent rapes of women in India. “I will not apologise for telling the truth,” he said, drawing renewed attention towards the letters of apology and mercy petitions written by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar to the British to release him from prison.

Instantly, the BJP jumped on the issue trying to drive a wedge between the new allies in the government. However, by December 15 evening Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, addressing the media on the eve of the winter session of the legislature, made it clear that while he did not approve of Gandhi's comment, the two parties had different ideological moorings and such ideological conflicts were likely to arise in the future as well. “But we have a common minimum programme and our government will stick by it.”

If the comment against Sarvarkar could not break the Maha Vikas Aghadi, it is unlikely much else will. Even the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) found the Shiv Sena, despite egging on by the BJP to do its duty by the country, take a nuanced stand with state Home Minister Eknath Shinde, who belongs to the Sena, say no one will be discriminated against in the state. Thackeray said his government would wait and see how the Supreme Court deals with the Act before deciding on what it must do.

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With none of these affecting the Maharashtra coalition, Fadnavis is of the view that the Shiv Sena had a secret pact with both the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) right from the election process to defeat the BJP. If this is the case, it is utterly Fadnavis’ failure for not being able to spot such a conspiracy in time and defeat the Sena's sinister designs. On the contrary, Fadnavis himself has been accused of conspiracy.

Former BJP MLA Anil Gote, who recently joined the NCP, has accused Fadnavis of plotting against mass leaders in the BJP while he was the Chief Minister. Gote alleged that every night after 10 PM Fadnavis’ “coterie” would gather at the “Varsha night club” — Varsha is the chief minister’s official residence. Gote made these allegations on December 12, the same day Pankaja Munde openly accused Fadnavis of scheming with her estranged cousin Dhananjay Munde (of the NCP) to ensure her defeat from the family bastion of Parli, in Beed district. Khadse, a known rival of Fadnavis, has made the same allegations against the former CM vis-à-vis his daughter who lost from Jalgaon, a seat held by Khadse for several terms.

Other leaders have also expressed their reservations against the party’s decision to admit people from the Congress and the NCP into the BJP ahead of the state elections. More than half of these defectors lost the polls and those who won are now vulnerable to poaching by the ruling triumvirate. In fact, grapevine has it that there is already an attempt by the NCP to win back its legislators. With three parties ranged against the BJP, they may not be averse to risking disqualification and re-contesting their seats. There are also rumours that Pankaja Munde and Khadse are in touch with the Shiv Sena and the NCP respectively. If their supporters among the newly-elected MLAs walk out with them, the BJP could soon find itself in a tight spot.

This could be the reason why Fadnavis appears to be highly-rattled these days. In addition to these known threats, there are many smaller leaders within the Maharashtra BJP who hold Fadnavis responsible for their not winning a party ticket to contest the polls.

In just over a month the BJP has gone from being the strongest party in Maharashtra to becoming the most vulnerable and as electorally weak as the others. The overconfidence of its leaders, including at the national level, is to blame.

Sujata Anandan is a senior journalist and author. Views are personal.
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