‘Pawar Play’ in Maharashtra
Henry Luis Mencken (1880-1956), well known American journalist and essayist, once wrote “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” As we sit back and watch as the Impeachment drama plays out in the United States, one cannot help but marvel at Mr. Mencken prescience. The election of Donald Trump does seem to suggest that the American public has indeed found its inner soul, but as to whether it has really perfected democracy in the process remains questionable.
Especially, more so, if it was to compare itself to what passes for democracy here. In short order they would then realize the vast distance they have yet to cover to reach true perfection. As a matter of fact, they would do well to follow the ongoing “Pawar Play” in Maharashtra, which incidentally is only the latest manifestation of what perfection in a democracy looks like, and has all the ingredients of a true Bollywood potboiler in the making. That is the only way in which realization would dawn on them that Mencken’s deductions were slightly awry. Invariably in perfect democracies it is not the political leaders who are morons, but the people who voted them to power. That is the fundamental reality we have been confronting ever since Independence, regardless of the political ideologies of the people and parties we vote into power.
Whatever the host of legal eagles fighting the case in our Supreme Court may say to justify their arguments, and regardless of the conclusions the Hon’ble Court may arrive at, the simple truth of the matter is that for all sides concerned, Maharashtra is too important to lose. To start with the inability to form the government in Maharashtra would not just be a simple loss of face, but utter humiliation for the BJP, and more importantly, for its mentors from Nagpur, located in the heart of the State. If they cannot control their own fiefdom, what control will they exercise tomorrow over the rest of the country, more so given that elections are due in states like Bihar and Jharkhand in the coming months?
Similarly for the Shiv Sena after having openly cast aside the cloak of morality and gambled everything, including the kitchen sink, in its blatant attempt to go one up and grab the Chief Ministership for Balasaheb’s scion, a loss would spell utter disaster and lead to questions of survivability of the dynasty. For the NCP, and especially the Pawars, being on the winning side is the only hope for redemption for past transgressions. As events have played out, it is now obvious that Pawar the younger was carried away by the brashness of youth and the fact that leadership of the Party would remain just a mirage due to circumstances of birth as long as Pawar the elder had any say in the matter. Finally, for the Congress that continues to be on the ventilator this was an unexpected bonus, a fleeting opportunity to start again.
While each of these stakeholders has its own particular motivations for their actions, however, the most important aspect incentive for all in this battle royal for the stewardship of the State is the simple fact that not only is Maharashtra a large state, governing which is undoubtedly prestigious, but also an extremely rich one. It doesn’t exactly require a leap of faith to suggest that whosoever controls the money controls the votes. After all, is that not the very reason that controversy dogs the issue of electoral bonds that were introduced not too long back?
Leave aside mundane issues of malfeasance, personal greed, overarching ambition and rank opportunism, what is indeed truly astounding to see is the utter lack of constitutional propriety and ethical conduct on the part of those charged with its very protection. For them to let petty loyalties and servility take precedence over self- respect and principled conduct is not just a reflection on how unworthy they are to hold such positions of eminence, but also a shameful blot on our social mores that encourages such people to claw their way up despite lacking an iota of integrity or moral fibre. One cannot but feel embarrassment for the President, a former advocate, who unquestioningly accepts the recommendations of a Prime Minister without the requisite cabinet approval, justified by the use of a most inappropriate rule to cover the lapse. That such a rule can be invoked at the dead of night to swear- in a government at dawn, in the futile hope that it would provide stability, after weeks of confusion, is indeed laughable, if it were not so tragic.
The Supreme Court’s directions to the newly sworn-in Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis, to prove his majority on the floor of the House within two days, set the cat among the pigeons as it left only limited scope for horse trading. It forced him to resign prior to the House being called into session as by that time it was abundantly clear that Mr. Ajit Pawar was in no position to provide the necessary support of the NCP legislators required to gain a majority, as he had promised. It is only now becoming increasingly clear that the ‘Ajit Pawar move’ was in all likelihood, a move conceived by his uncle and leader of the NCP, Mr. Sharad Pawar, to kill two birds with one stone; firstly lure the BJP into withdrawing President’s Rule in the State, which it may otherwise not have done in a hurry, and to force the Congress to reduce its demands in exchange for joining the anti BJP Coalition, Maharashtra Vikas Agadi, under the leadership of Mr. Uddhav Thackeray as Chief Minister.
Events in Maharashtra only accentuate the utter lack of morality on display on the part of all concerned. If we were to look at the winners and losers that have emerged after this power play, clearly the BJP finds itself stranded by the wayside and has much to introspect, but it is not the only loser, The Shiv Sena may have won itself a reprieve and fulfilled Thackeray’s ambition of being Chief Minister, it has come at a cost, as it appears to have caused grevious damage to its ideological foundations. There is always the possibility that Uddhav may have realized that with the Ayodhya Temple issue having been resolved to a large extent, hard Hindutva is unlikely to be a crowd puller in the coming days and an ideological shift was necessary if the Shiv Sena is to flourish. The Congress continues to be seen as disorganized, lacking leadership, confused and opportunistic, a perception that is unlikely to change until the Gandhi’s are leached out of its organizational structure. Only the NCP appears to have emerged as clear winners, especially Mr. Sharad Pawar, as he will undoubtedly wield the remote control on this coalition government. Off course, all of these shenanigans only reinforce the fact that it has been the people of Maharashtra, who have lost out the most, and were, in Mencken’s words, “moronic” enough to vote these ingrates into power.
The writer is a military veteran and consultant with the Observer Research Foundation and a Senior Visiting Fellow with The Peninsula Foundation, Chennai. The views expressed are the author’s own.