The imposition of President’s rule in Maharashtra brings the curtains down on a farcical power game that made a mockery of the poll mandate. The primary culprit for the denouement is Shiv Sena whose brinkmanship for a larger share of power, quite disproportionate to its strength in the Assembly, and subsequent haste to end its alliance with the BJP exposes Uddhav Thackeray’s political immaturity and inexperience. By remaining adamant on Chief Minister’s post as part of a rotational power-sharing formula, the regional party has squandered away its chance to become part of the alliance government as a junior partner. Its crude display of hunger for power has reduced the State politics to a farce. Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s hurried recommendation for President’s rule has also come under a cloud. After having invited the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to explore the possibility of cobbling together a coalition to form the government, he should have given them adequate time for such an effort to come to a logical conclusion and exhausted all the options before recommending President’s rule. Of course, by Tuesday afternoon, it became clear that there was no possibility of a stable government being formed in the State. The NCP and the Congress were dithering on the issue of giving letters of support to the Shiv Sena, given their past experiences with the virulent Hindutva party. The dilemma was particularly acute for Congress president Sonia Gandhi because any form of association with the Sena, just for the sake of keeping the BJP out of power, would negate the party’s avowed secular credentials and send a wrong message to the people in other States.
The Maharashtra muddle has exposed the divisions within the grand old party, with the State leaders rooting for supporting the Sena government while the Central leaders were opposed to such an arrangement. The formation of the NCP-Congress-Sena government would have been a betrayal of the public mandate and suicidal for the grand old party. The Congress and the NCP, which fought the polls in alliance, got a mandate to sit in the opposition. For the BJP too, it is a moment of reckoning. It is unusual for pre-poll alliance partners to be unable to form the government, despite winning majority. Moreover, the BJP and Sena were bound by the ideology of political Hindutva. The bitter fallout offers a lesson to the saffron party on its own limitations in sustaining alliances and managing the expectations of the allies. During the entire drama, it was strange that the BJP’s central leadership refused to intervene in the public spat involving its State leaders and the Sena. As a result, the alliance, however tenuous it may have been, finally collapsed.