The strangest aspect of Devendra Fadnavis’s 80-hour chief ministership was the manner of its commencement. Why choose an early dawn hour to wake up the Governor to swear yourself in? It almost seems like he knew he was doing something not quite proper. It was like a homeowner breaking into his own house like a burglar. If it was above board and legal, with proper certifiable majority support, Fadnavis should have come in broad daylight to stake his claim. As it was, it sounded like a bit of jugaad, cutting of corners, hoping no one would notice.
These sorts of reversals happen when a party steals a march over the better claimant. The BJP did it famously in Goa last time. But then they were relative newcomers as a ruling power, still learning the tricks. Now they are firmly established, expected to stay in power at the Centre for a while. They ought to believe in their own success. They have to behave responsibly, not play jugaad politics.
There is a difference in this matter between Modi 1.0 and Modi 2.0. Modi 1.0 was focused on Swachh Bharat, rural housing and electrification, women’s health, Ayushman Bharat, Make in India. Modi 2.0 seems to be focused on the BJP’s ideological programme — Article 370, temple, perhaps Uniform Civil Code, citizen registration, Hindi as sole national language. It is almost as if there is a sense of urgency, as if time is running out and the programme has to be finished this term. There is a glaring lack of interest in the fortunes of the economy, which was the central focus in Modi 1.0. Has Modi 2.0 abandoned Sabka Vikas?
Think of what happened in Maharashtra. The Congress has had a problem with admitting that it is no longer the dominant party. It has been in denial about its shrinkage in the Lok Sabha. The sense of entitlement is ever there, as the fuss over the change in security cover showed. (Why do Indian leaders love high levels of security, unlike leaders in other democracies? After all, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her guards and no security was able to protect Rajiv Gandhi.)
In Maharashtra, however, Sonia Gandhi was happy to play the No. 3 role and waited astutely to secure what she wanted. It could herald the new, modest Congress. Watch out!
The BJP used to have a sore side for years as an outsider. Yet, it was alert, cautious and unwilling to take risks. But in the Maharashtra case, it claimed that Fadnavis had been returned as Chief Minister even when results showed that, on its own, the BJP had failed to break through. It may have been Fadnavis rather than Amit Shah or Narendra Modi who hurried the swearing-in without checking if NCP leader Ajit Pawar had the party numbers. Did it stem from a sense of entitlement, having secured a second big victory in the general elections?
Politics has not changed just because the BJP/NDA is comfortable now in both Houses of Parliament. People still want roti, kapda, makaan and bijli, sadak, paani. The larger national concerns of Article 370 or the NRC may engage the leadership but did not impress the voters in Haryana or Maharashtra.
The first and last lesson of democratic politics is: Do not take the voters for granted. They bite back.
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