Saffron divorce: war of the roses

Maharashtra has queered the pitch for the BJP, and in a way even for Narendra Modi, with five-cornered contests that will result in legislators with wafer-thin majorities leading to an ideological vacuum, cautions senior journalist and political commentator Kumar Ketkar

Maharashtra has queered the pitch for the BJP and in a way even for Narendra Modi. The Prime Minister had to receive the bad news of the split in the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance almost immediately after he landed in the United States. Even as the NRI Americans converted his visit into a festival of sorts, rather than a summit between two leaders of the largest democracies in the world, many of them were a little disappointed that their icon could not keep friends and allies.

Modi has no political compulsion to follow the so called "coalition dharma" because the BJP has its own majority with 282 seats. But it also must be remembered that the NDA will now be short of 18 MPs, belonging to the Sena, if Uddhav gives a call for them to quit the NDA.

It is nobody's argument, at least today, that this is a beginning of the decline of the NDA. But within just five months, the NDA Wall has been breached again.  The first being that of Bishnoy's party in Haryana.

It would be difficult to predict what would happen in Maharashtra and what would be the numbers each party would manage to get, when the results are out on 19 October, because never before has the state faced a five-cornered contest. Ironically, both the fronts have betrayed their professed ideological stances. The saffron alliance of the BJP and the Shiv Sena, we were told, was based on the ideology of Hindutva. Though the Shiv Sena was known for its Marathi identity, it had attached itself to militant Hindutva since 1989, when the alliance came into effect.

The architect of the alliance was mainly Pramod Mahajan. And the survival of the alliance was because of mediation of the late Gopinath Munde. But Mahajan was murdered by his own brother and Munde died in a tragic accident soon after he was sworn in as a cabinet minister at the centre.

Nobody was left to mediate, to keep the parties together. Now the BJP and Sena are fighting all 288 seats each (except a very few given out to small allies). Given the unofficial estimate (as per late Gopinath Munde's public statement), every candidate has to invest anywhere between Rs5 to Rs8 corores to contest election. It is truly mindboggling that the BJP and Sena will have to fight nearly 576 seats (meaning investing close to Rs 3 to Rs5 thousand crores). Both the parties do not even have that many candidates.

Each candidate requires, at least 100 local activists for working in the constituency, and that means both the parties will need close to 60 thousand campaigners for the 288 constituencies.

No party has the organisational ability to build that kind of cadre in just about a fortnight. The last day of withdrawals is over now and the voting is on the 15th. But the voters will definitely ask all the candidates - (1) on what basis did you come together and (2) why did you break the alliance? Both the parties have really not spelt out a programme or ideological position that they represent. In this free for all, the alliances will be created only after the election results, depending on numbers.

The most likely scenario could be again the coming together of both the saffron parties. They could well say that the voters have given their verdict and since nobody has a majority, they as former allies, had decided to come together to avoid president's rule. Or it could be Shiv Sena and the NCP (there were already grapevine reports that Sharad Pawar was encouraging the Shiv Sena to split) or it could even be NCP and the BJP could come together, as alleged by former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and  Congress state president, Manikrao Thakre.

However, the anti-incumbency wave is against both the Congresses and the NCP and it is distinctly possible that both would suffer, despite the easy advantage that the ruling alliance had following the saffron split, - literally a god-sent gift. The Congress and the NCP not only lost the plot, but also credibility and contact with the masses.

It is not clear how much of the impact of Narendra Modi's magic would still prevail. He is scheduled to hold about two dozen meetings in the state in the next two weeks. His campaign for Swachha Bharat (clean India) and his "conquest" of America have been huge media extravaganzas. Will they add to to his so called charisma and mesmerising speeches? Indeed, do the speeches really impress the people or the voters choose to follow anti-incumbency factors?

One thing is for sure. Not only the politics of Maharashtra, but even national politics has taken a major turn. For the first time since the formation of Maharashtra the state, it has suffered a 7-point Richter scale quake.

A five-cornered contest will result in very small margins of victories. It is distinctly possible that a candidate with just about 20 to 25 per cent vote share, could be elected in our first-past-the-post system. Be that as it may, the Marathi manoos and his state will not be the same again. Nor, the political culture as it degenerates rapidly into an ideological vacuum.