One after another setback to Modi’s politics

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N D Sharma
N D Sharma
is a senior journalist, and Patron of eNewsroom India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term has not been smooth, politically. He is receiving one setback after another, the latest being in Maharashtra where he had to cut a sorry figure within three days after surreptitiously installing the BJP-led government. His sinister design was spoiled by the intervention of the Supreme Court — in the first important decision by the apex Court after the retirement of CJI Ranjan Gogoi.

Modi’s popularity marked a perceptible decline in the Assembly elections held in Haryana and Maharashtra soon after his massive victory in the Lok Sabha elections. The results also showed that the voters in the two States had partially disapproved of the Centre’s Kashmir policy and revocation of Article 370 (granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir) which Modi and BJP president Amit Shah had made a major poll issue in the two States. Nor were the voters impressed by the promise of implementing National Register of Citizens (NRC) which not only the two top leaders of the party but the Chief Ministers of the two States, Manohar Lal Khattar and Devendra Fadnavis, respectively, had also trumpeted during the campaign.

Still, the BJP failed to get even a simple majority in Haryana even though Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had spent relatively more time in campaigning there than in Maharashtra. Shah had aimed his target at 75 plus seats in a 90-member Haryana Assembly, but the party got only 40 seats. That was in spite of fractured opposition.

Both Prime Minister Modi and Shah (who is also the Home Minister) had vigorously campaigned in the two States. Also were engaged in disguised campaigning for the ruling party the CBI, the ED and the Army top brass. Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat was conducting the briefings to the media about happenings on the border which should normally have been left to the party spokesmen.

Still, the BJP failed to get even a simple majority in Haryana even though Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had spent relatively more time in campaigning there than in Maharashtra. Shah had aimed his target at 75 plus seats in a 90-member Haryana Assembly, but the party got only 40 seats. That was in spite of fractured opposition. Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) had emerged as the second largest party in 2014 with 19 MLAs. Formed by former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal, INLD had become a victim of family feuds, with Devi Lal’s great grandson Dushyant Chautala splitting the INLD and forming his Jannayak Janata Party (JJP). Most of the MLAs and prominent leaders of the INLD had joined the BJP. Whatever was left of the INLD could win only one seat this time. The breakaway group of Dushyant Chautala, JJP, was able to win ten seats which put him in a crucial role in forming the government in the State having a hung Assembly. The faction-ridden Congress was able to raise its tally from 15 seats in 2014 to 31 this time.

The situation in Maharashtra is more complex and more humiliating to the BJP top brass, especially to Prime Minister Modi. Shiv Sena was BJP’s oldest and most trusted ally. The two contested the Assembly elections after entering into a formal alliance; BJP got 105 and Shiv Sena 56 seats in a House of 288. After the results were announced on October 24, Shiv Sena said that the agreement between the two parties was that each would have its own Chief Minister for two and a half years and wanted the BJP to reaffirm it before taking steps to form the government. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray repeatedly said that this was decided during his talks with BJP chief Amit Shah. While other BJP leaders went on contradicting him, Modi and Shah kept quiet.

JJP of Dushyant Chautala had consistently attacked the BJP during the election campaign and alleged that the Khattar government was working against the interests of the people, particularly against the interests of the farmers. For forming the government, Khattar (or BJP) had to suffer the humiliation of approaching Chautala and accept his conditions. While Khattar was sworn in as Chief Minister, Chautala was appointed Deputy Chief Minister. After striking his deal with BJP whose election manifesto he had ridiculed and called it “Jumla Patra”, Dushyant Chautala went to Tihar Jail (in Delhi) to meet his father Ajay Chautala (undergoing a sentence of ten years’ imprisonment for his role in the teachers’ recruitment scam). Soon the BJP government at the Centre released Ajay Chautala on parole ostensively to allow him to attend his son’s swearing-in.

The situation in Maharashtra is more complex and more humiliating to the BJP top brass, especially to Prime Minister Modi. Shiv Sena was BJP’s oldest and most trusted ally. The two contested the Assembly elections after entering into a formal alliance; BJP got 105 and Shiv Sena 56 seats in a House of 288. After the results were announced on October 24, Shiv Sena said that the agreement between the two parties was that each would have its own Chief Minister for two and a half years and wanted the BJP to reaffirm it before taking steps to form the government. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray repeatedly said that this was decided during his talks with BJP chief Amit Shah. While other BJP leaders went on contradicting him, Modi and Shah kept quiet. Shah spoke for the first time nearly a fortnight later but he did not deny Thackeray’s claim categorically but made only vague observations. He also said that he could not divulge what was decided at a closed door meeting.

The BJP-Shiv Sena pact having broken, the latter started negotiations with Nationalist Congress Party (54 seats) and Congress (44). While Sharad Pawar’s NCP has more flexible attitude, an alliance with Congress was proving difficult because of the decades old differences on certain basis issues between the two parties. While their parleys were going on, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari recommended President’ Rule in the State which was promptly imposed by the Centre. Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress nearly finalised their agreement and announced on November 22 that they would form the government in a couple of days. As Modi saw Maharashtra with Mumbai, the financial capital of the country, slipping out of his hands, he set in motion his sinister design. In the dead of the night, Governor Koshyari sent his report for revoking President’s Rule, Modi forwarded it to the President by bypassing the cabinet, President Ram Nath Kovind promptly obliged and the Home Ministry issued the notification at 5-47 AM on November 23. Soon thereafter Koshyari called Devendra Fadnavis of BJP and Ajit Pawar of NCP who were sworn in as Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, respectively.

The Supreme Court held a special sitting on Sunday morning to hear a petition of the three aggrieved parties (Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress). On Tuesday (November 26), the three-judge Bench of the apex court directed holding of the Assembly session to complete oath-taking of the newly elected MLAs and trust vote by 5 PM on November 27. Soon thereafter, Ajit Pawar and Devendra Fadnavis resigned as Deputy Chief Minister and Chief Minister. Modi’s game was up. In the evening Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was elected leader of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance and thus the candidate for the post of Chief Minister.

As the things stand, the poll-bound Jharkhand is also going to give a big shock to Modi.

 

Views expressed here, are  author’s personal opinion.

N D Sharma
N D Sharma
is a senior journalist, and Patron of eNewsroom India.

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