It could not get any more dramatic than this. On Constitution Day, November 26, the Supreme Court has ordered that an open floor test be conducted within 24 hours in the Maharashtra state assembly and the proceedings be telecast live to the outside world.
However, that by itself may not ring down the curtains on the current political drama. If the battle cry of ‘we are 162’ by the Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena combine holds good, then one can be rest assured the drama will go into a few more acts, as the BJP would then be hell-bent on doing a Karnataka in Maharashtra. We could also get to witness, over the next 24 hours, one of the most complex sets of mergers and acquisitions, which will put to shame the best M&A manoeuvres from the corporate world.
Consider this: At stake is the richest state in the country, the hub of all business activity, home to the equity markets — you name it, it’s all there, with the maximum city Mumbai controlling much of the financial strings to which the nation dances.
With the state of business in a bad shape, with most economic indicators in the negative, the theory doing the rounds in Mumbai is this may be the perfect opportunity to jolt the BJP out of its complacency. What better way to do it than, by trooping under the flag of state’s own Hindutva party, the Shiv Sena.
As conspiracy theories go, none are getting as much currency as the question whether the entire game on the chessboard is panning out as conceived by the master strategist NCP leader Sharad Pawar, right from his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Much water has flown under the bridge, protestations about loyalty for the new combine and determination to send the BJP packing in the state have been recorded. Yet, doubts linger, in the minds of almost everyone. They have no option but to play along and bide their time till the next move is made by NCP leader.
Meanwhile, it pays to revisit the edifice on which Devendra Fadnavis built his campaign plank for the 2014 assembly polls. He projected himself as one who alone had the determination to lay bare the various corruption cases against Ajit Pawar, the irrigation scam billed at Rs 70,000 crore only one among many. There were also the scams involving Ajit’s dubious role in cooperative sugar mills getting handed over to private mill owners, the manner in which funds were handled in cooperative banks and so on. With the wave of a magic wand, investigations into irrigation scams have been withdrawn. Though the Anti-Corruption Bureau has claimed that the closed cases are not the ones in which Ajit Pawar is included, it’s to be seen what will be the progress in these cases.
The resignation of Ajit Pawar as Deputy Chief Minister is the latest in a series of twists in the Maharashtra government-formation saga that is refusing to come to a conclusion.
Yet, it is critical for Sharad Pawar that the NCP remains an unbreakable entity, at least in the short term. Therefore, Maharashtra’s own Big Billion Day or The Great Indian Shopping Festival may throw up a whole range of entities that can be bought, cutting across party lines.
A mere 24 hours may not be sufficient to wrap it up as it is not yet a fire sale. There will be many facades of political play to reckon with, many masks to be ripped off before the endgame becomes clear. Sure the vultures are circling, but identifying the prey may take a bit longer than the time that has been granted. It would be unfair to expect that even the shrewdest ‘chakanya’ in Indian politics can pull off such a miracle in a slam-bang manner. He needs his time to chip away at the 162-strong block as it is a task that would need as much finesse as brute strength.
Sure, the rapier rather than the blunt sword would take considerably more time but yield better results. Therefore, it would be prudent to assume that the November 27 floor test of political allegiance in Maharashtra would, at best be Act IV Scene VI. The protagonists can take a bow, for the day, and get ready for the curtains to go up again for Act V to get presented before the people of Maharashtra, and the rest of India.
It could be a coincidence that this drama is unfolding in Mumbai, the city that gives India its most-engrossing masala potboilers. This, however, has taken the spectacle to another level. Bollywood can take lessons from this script as it unfolds.Vinod Mathew is a Kochi-based senior journalist who served as the resident editor of a national daily in Pune. Views are personal.