Who moved my cheese? - This is not just a title of a great book that I read, but seems quite apt for the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dispensation. Little did the BJP realise that they would be outpaced in their own game. A game played out to perfection over the past 6 years by the Machiavellian thought process so acquired by the largest party in India. Let’s not discredit or write off the political Chanakya within the BJP fold - party chief Amit Shah. Many a commentator are already too eager to write his epitaph- but I feel, they seem to be jumping the gun.
Let me recount my interaction with Amit Bhai prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls to buttress my point. Amit Shah was in-charge of Uttar Pradesh and it was his meticulous planning, social engineering, caste configuration and political acumen that saw the BJP cross the magic figure of 70 seats. Much has been written about his expertise, but what struck me during our meeting and later an exhaustive interview was a person who had details in his mind as the back of his hand. Amit Shah could speak at length with figures and data at polling booth level from across the state with impunity. This to my mind was simply not possible for a person who has not been born in Uttar Pradesh - the state is too diverse. Frankly if anyone from either Bihar or UP can draw up details at polling booth level - the person has to be a maverick - and for me, Amit Shah appeared no less than “Super Maverick”.
So the question that I wish to raise is - what went wrong, how come maverick cum magic hand of BJP, missed the mark - did they miscalculate or did the BJP got overconfident or simply put, did the party with difference become gullible - what ever happened, it needs some surface scratching or shall I say - soul searching.
Let’s place facts as they stand.
BJP-Shiv Sena alliance won a decisive victory in Maharashtra. They should have performed exceedingly well given the fact that Congress was in a complete disarray in Maharashtra. The NCP was reeling from various corruption scandals, specially after Sharad Pawar was summoned by the Enforcement directorate. The NCP was demoralised and radar less too.
But the voters did express its disaffection in Maharashtra. Farmer suicides, Dalit repression, loss of jobs, economic hollowness, over the top announcement of 'Achhe Din' promise, and above all - boastful proclamation, there is no alternative to BJP-Shiv Sena combine - propelled the voter to silent retribution. Time and again Indian voters have exhibited a resilience to dismember the giant slayer. Be it the Indira Congress or the mighty regional parties.
Pawar managed to sway the Maratha vote with his victim appeal amd the Congress simply secured seats basis their candidates’ efforts. Still the ball was in the BJP-Shiv Sena combine’s court. But then Uddhav Thackeray flipped. Given the past experiences BJP could have accommodated a flippant Shiv Sena - after all this is what it had been doing prior to 2014 - but the BJP didn’t get into an appeasement mode. Here in lies the question, why it didn’t. Given the fact that the BJP bent over backwards in Bihar to secure an alliance with Nitish Kumar’s JDU. So why did the BJP smart heads hardened their stance with the Shiv Sena?
Let me place so probable’s on the table - because no one would ever get to the real reason as to what happened behind the closed doors.
Scenario One: The BJP had 105 seats of its own, with smaller parties and independents in tow, the tally was close of 125 plus. So the BJP needed just 20 more MLA’s support. Anti defection law won’t have allowed defection of just 20-25 MLA’s from either the Shiv Sena or the NCP or for that matter from the Congress. But if 10 to 15 MLAs from all three parties abstained the floor test, the BJP would been home. Something which the BJP had done to perfection in Karnataka just a few months ago. But it needed time and a government in place. May be this was the reason to secure Ajit Pawar’s support to form the government and then effect operation Lotus - Karnataka style. Just that the BJP mavericks miscalculated Sharad Pawar.
Scenario Two: Sharad Pawar has been one of the finest political Chanakya of Maharashtra. With his all party reach and acceptance, his immense propensity to flip at the most opportune moment to derive maximum benefit - the BJP would have been sure that, after a bit of dilly-dally, Sharad Pawar would succumb to the power equation at centre. After all, the NCP had supported Devendra Fadnavis government from outside in 2014. Figure this out - Ajit Pawar was all set for his "Chakki peeshing - chakki peeshing" future, the ED was behind Sharad Pawar and Supriya Sule would have been too happy to get her husband free from any alleged allegation of Lavasa project. So what would have stopped NCP from supporting Devendra Fadnavis once again in 2019.
Well, well - it was the fight for survival of Pawar family - and this the BJP didn’t factor in. You can’t cage in “the Maratha strongman”, Sharad Pawar, and step on his tail too. How could any strategist ever believe that out manoeuvring Pawar was possible in his backyard when he is being hounded by central agencies - no body could touch the man even when he revolted to become the CM in his thirites, when he raised a banner of revolt against Sonia Gandhi. And when Sharad Pawar steered clear multiple minefields of international cricket. Pre-emptying Sharad Pawar, was bound to fail.
Scenario Three: Listless Congress would have crumbled under its own weight despite winning 44 seats. After all, did Gandhi’s even bother to campaign enough in Maharashtra. And even after 44 wins, the party leadership was resigned to its dismal fate. Rebel groups would have broken away from Congress and supported the BJP led government - after all not a single Congress MLA who had won on his own initiative, desired a re-election. The uncertainty of polls, repeated expenditure, no party support and leadership vacuum would have delivered the hapless Congress MLA’s in BJP’s lap.
Perfect political calculation, which on the surface was flawless. Yet, the missed point - state congress leaders like Ashok Chauhan were clear that this was a golden opportunity to corner the central Congress leadership. The windfall 44 seat would have vaporised by 2024. It was now or never for the Maharashtra Congress. If they are not within a government with lucrative portfolios, Maharashtra Congress would have been a poor shadow of Bihar/Uttar Pradesh Congress. So the open threat to central leadership, allow us to align with Shiv Sena + NCP combine, else, we move en-mass to theNCP or worst still, Shiv Sena. Except the Rahul Gandhi supported state congress leaders, every Maharashtra Pradesh Congress leader was prepared for the inevitable - be part of any government that is non-BJP.
Here in too, the BJP political managers floundered. Lure of money and promise of central patronage wasn’t simply good enough – elected MLAs in any state have to ensure their survival and strong man image. Oops, what a small, miscalculation.
Scenario Four - How long could the Shiv Sena have played its game. Let’s face it, they had no option. Even if Sharad Pawar would have assuaged their ruffled feathers, massaged their ego, the number game was not in their favour. Simply put, would the Congress ruin its secular image by aligning with ultra-right Shiv Sena. Even an external support from Congress was a strict No - No. And if a break away Congress group would have moved close to the Shiv Sena - NCP combine, they would have rather preferred to join hands with BJP, than the NCP-Shiv Sena combine as the BJP was a more secure and reliable bet. BJP was absolutely confident of left oriented Rahul Gandhi, likes of Gulamnabi Azad, A K Antony, Anand Sharma, Digvijay Singh, Mani Shankar Iyer, Jairam Ramesh and so on, so on. Ans yes, lets not forget Sonia Gandhi, who has tried her utmost to secure the secular party image on several occasions. Their instinct was further re-enforced by Karnataka, where Congress strongman Sidda, ensured the fall of Congress - JDS government. So the BJP was so - so assured.
But they miscalculated, Ahmed Patel. Ahmed Patel had shown his mantle in Gujarat during Rajya Sabha elections, but was reigned in by Congress luminaries, specially the JNU bandwagon which has so completely engulfed both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. But this time it was Congress parties finances which were at stake. And Ahmed Patel is the finance man of the Congress. Without Maharashtra and above all without Mumbai, how can any finance manager fill the party coffers. So Ahmed Patel raised his stake, got his close associates in Maharashtra Pradesh Congress to get cracking and they virtually announced that Congress will support any government which is supported by the NCP.
So did the two Gujarati Chanakyaks clash again in Gujarat’s neighbouring state - Maharashtra.
Well, as said in the beginning, speculation and hypothetically prognosis is all any journalist can offer with respect to Maharashtra. What really happened may unravel, if at all, one of the strategist divulged the details. But then again, it would be the word of one verse many. Except BJP President Mr. Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, no one would ever know how the Megalith - the BJP, lost its own game. Or shall I say this is an interlude, that “Picture Aahi Baki hai, dost” !!