The revolt of Shiv Sena MLAs led by urban development and PWD minister Eknath Shinde is the result of chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s perceived inaccessibility, resentment over his lieutenant Sanjay Raut’s clout and concerns about the electoral cost of Sena’s drift on Hindutva.
The decision of Sena MLAs to bolt en masse has sealed the fate of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government — irrespective of whether it hangs on a little longer. The unlikely trio of Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress who allied to keep BJP out of office, gain some breathing space and gather resources before the next election seems out of steam. .
The glue that kept the coalition going was quite strong: All three parties understood that should BJP get to form a government, it might spell doom to their political prospects. It would not have been easy for any of the three to spend five years on opposition benches without suffering a serious erosion of political support. Congress, with a severely shrunk presence, would have suffered most but the price for the others would be stiff too.
For most of the 31 months MVA has been in office, it did look like the experiment was surviving if not appearing as very stable. The tide began to turn decisively when BJP led by former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis dealt Sena a humiliating blow by getting independents, some reportedly close to NCP, to support BJP for the sixth seat in the recent Rajya Sabha election. That was followed by a similar success in the legislative council poll with the MVA allies not even putting up a semblance of a united fight.
As events indicate, frustration over the state of affairs in the party was brimming over in the Sena. MLAs did not get access to Thackeray, who was seen to be largely confined to his residence, while his health was also seen as a matter of worry. His political outings have been rare and far in between. Raut seems to have attracted the wrath of many as an “intermediary” between the leader and the party. He is a visible face of the coalition and his equation with NCP leader Sharad Pawar was an important reason for the formation of the MVA.
Sena’s high risk gamble of claiming the chief ministership after contesting the 2019 Assembly election as a junior ally of BJP and benefitting from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popular appeal, was always fraught with pitfalls. For some time, BJP held back in the hope that one of the partners would break. When the Anil Deshmukh scandal broke with sensational claims of Mumbai restaurants being asked to cough up Rs 100 crore in birbes every month, BJP got the opportunity to attack the MVA’s fault lines.
As the Deshmukh case proceeded, with the role of controversial cop Sachin Waze and former Mumbai police chief Parambir Singh’s allegations coming to light, MVA began to flounder. The case of NCP leader Nawaz Malik followed and at one point an NCP leader complained to a BJP veteran that no less than a 100 cases had been filed against various MVA leaders.
But the break point was internal as MVA leaders had never harboured any illusions about running an exemplary government. Though he does not command much electoral clout, MNS leader’s challenge over taking down loud speakers on mosques discomfited Sena more than it should have. Though Raj Thackeray claimed this was a social and not a religious issue, he had posed a challenge to Sena’s Hindutva credentials. Efforts to repair the damage with Aditya Thackeray visiting Ayodhya do not seem to have worked, not the least with the party.
In the end, many Sena MLAs felt hurt and humiliated and wondered at the ideological disorientation of being in the company of allies who have always opposed. The formation of a BJP government may yet face hurdles such as the Assembly presiding officer’s decision and loyalties and may go to the courts. But it seems to have reinforced the Karnataka lesson that BJP will not let go of a stolen prize.