It is unusual for a pre-poll alliance that won an assembly election to fail in forming the government. That Maharashtra has been placed under President’s rule, despite the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance winning a clear majority in last month’s assembly election, is an exceptional development. The BJP and Sena have been partners for more than a quarter century, sharing power in local bodies, the state government and at the Centre. Their relationship was firmed up by their adherence to the ideology of political Hindutva. Now, the two parties have had a seemingly bitter parting, jeopardising the prospects of a BJP-Sena government in Maharashtra, with the Sena also quitting the NDA.
For the BJP, the Maharashtra mess is a moment of reckoning. Among other things, it reveals the predicament of the new BJP, which has been expanding at a furious pace, and has been on a winning spree. For many years, the BJP, despite its ideological character and in contrast to the Congress, was viewed as a party that had the flexibility and skills to stitch coalitions in the most adverse circumstances.
Since 1996, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee, after failing to win support for his 13-day government at the Centre, complained of parties practising “political untouchability”, the BJP was seen to have mastered the art of winning allies and running coalition governments. Coalition dharma was a much evoked principle in the NDA of Vajpayee and L K Advani. However, there is reason to suspect that the party, after its several electoral victories under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, seems to be losing the ability or willingness to engage with partners and allies. Now the BJP’s approach seems to be more intransigent, to emphasise its greater numbers and insist that the regional party lower its expectations. It is curious that the BJP’s national leadership refused to intervene in the public spat involving its Maharashtra leaders and the Sena over the chief minister’s office and ministerial berths. Does it view the Sena’s departure as an opportunity to monopolise the entire Hindutva vote in Maharashtra? Or is it an instance of the leadership failing to judge the Sena’s intent? Either way, the Maharashtra break-up reflects poorly on the BJP’s management of allies, even as anti-BJPism may again become the glue that can bring together disparate Opposition parties.
The Maharashtra and Haryana results, that came just six months after the BJP won the general election with an enhanced mandate, are a pointer that no party can claim the permanent loyalty of voters. The federal character of the polity also allows space to regional players, which can scuttle the aims of arrogant or complacent national parties. That may not be a bad thing for democracy.