The BJP, given its nation-wide appeal right now, should have been more confident, and may be, fought the Maharashtra elections alone.
With a not-so-reliable and cantankerous ally like Shiv Sena pulling the plug on the party at the last minute, trust and fraternity is something the BJP is paying for dearly.
Years ago, I was at a shoot for a hugely popular game show that continues to capture the imagination of the nation.
Hosting the show was India’s greatest superstar of the celluloid. As the shot was about to commence, the superstar swiftly inspected himself on the giant screens mounted on either side of the set, much like how Narcissus would admire his own reflection.
He then quipped looking at the audience “I trust I look okay?”.
“Absolutely magnificent”, replied a young lady. The superstar smiled self-assuredly as if to say, “I know. I just like to hear it said aloud occasionally”.
Besides the talent and star charisma, it does take a great deal of vanity to continue to function despite the relentless public scrutiny and to not be bothered too much by public opinion or possible failure.
Politics is known as show business for the less presentable. Much like showbiz, it does take ample quantities of narcissism to believe that you will be chosen by the people as their leader and to not even consider the possibility of an ignominious defeat.
The speeches circulated on social media, giant hoardings that appear on political campaigns or on birthdays, and the constant coverage by the media play a huge part in feeding the politician’s ego.
The politician may claim that he doesn’t approve of being in the limelight, but it is unlikely that the spectacle occurs without his approval.
But sycophancy is to narcissism is what termites are to wood. Quite often, the politicians surround themselves with lackeys who insulate them from reality and cause them to believe their own myths.
Hillary Clinton is a prime example of this; such was her hubris when she ran for President in 2008 that it seemed she was busy deciding the colours of the wallpaper of the White House instead of attempting to connect with her voter base.
Along came charismatic young Barack Hussein Obama and she didn’t even get the nomination of the Democrat Party.
In 2016, once again, Hillary was so convinced she would be the winner that fireworks were planned in advance and a grand hotel was booked to celebrate her victory.
It took a Donald J. Trump and his grassroots MAGA movement to blow all her illusions to smithereens.
Back home, the NDA government suffered similar illusions in 2004, such that the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee recommended the premature dissolution of the Lok Sabha to pave the way for early elections.
I recall meeting a BJP volunteer back in 2004 who proclaimed with certitude that Vajpayee's popularity and the government's policies would secure them a second term.
He even went on to add that it was inevitable. Perhaps, this hubris had trickled down from the upper echelons of the party? In the end, the UPA managed to cobble together a coalition and the NDA was booted out.
But on rare occasions, we see politicians underestimate their popularity and the impact of their performance. Nitish Kumar is the chief instance of this. After a drubbing at the polls during the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Kumar took moral responsibility and resigned. He failed to realise that the people of Bihar had voted for Modi as PM, but this didn’t necessarily mean that they were against him (Kumar) as CM.
In fact, such was the impact of the defeat that it shook Nitish Kumar’s confidence to the core, causing him to partner with his once-adversary Laloo Prasad Yadav during the subsequent state elections in 2015.
Despite winning the elections, Kumar was so fed up with the thuggery of Laloo and his men that he had to return to its old ally, BJP.
In reality, Nitish had a strong record of development and should have contested elections all by himself.
In 2019, Amit Shah and Narendra Modi proved that they weren’t suffering from any delusions of grandeur when they predicted that he would secure more seats than 2014 and that this was a pro-incumbency vote.
The BJP is today the foremost political party nationally, especially with the Opposition in the doldrums. The record of development by the BJP in Maharashtra is strong, and the fact that the revocation of Article 370 initiated by the BJP was received well all over the country, should have cemented their confidence.
All through the tenure of the NDA, between 2014 and 2019, the Shiv Sena mischievously played dual roles. While they were allies of the BJP at the Centre, they were also BJP’s most virulent critics.
It led protest morchas against the BJP in Mumbai, frequently attacked the PM personally, especially during political rallies for state elections in 2014 and the municipal elections in 2017. There were frequent hit pieces on the BJP in Sena mouthpiece Saamna.
Looking at this record, it would have been astute of the BJP to contest the state elections all by itself, much like in 2014, knowing that they could not possibly rely on the Sena.
It would have certainly secured more seats than it currently has. A post-poll alliance would have afforded them a better bargaining position.
It must be noted that the campaign for the Maharashtra State elections was relatively low-key. Unlike in 2014, PM Modi campaigned in fewer locations. Perhaps, it was Amit Shah, who is occupied with his duties as Home Minister, who delegated the day-to-day poll operations to those who misread the nature of their relationship with the Sena.
Ticket distribution, too, left a lot to be desired. In many cases, candidates were announced weeks prior to the elections.
It is clear that the BJP was not confident enough to run the course alone. But at the same time, it appeared complacent on the campaign trail. If a psychologist were to analyse this cognitive dissonance, he would probably be left in a state of perplexity.
In the end, the BJP won 105 of the 164 seats it contested, while the Sena won 56 of the 124 seats it contested. The magic number to form the government being 144, clearly, the success rate of the BJP is much higher than that of the Sena. This success rate would have been higher if the ticket distribution was more thoughtful.
It is interesting to note that the BJP was voted out of power in 19 seats that it had won in 2014. But the party also gained in three seats it lost in 2014, making the total loss of seats at 16.
Earlier today, Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant announced his resignation as Union Minister, which proves that the Sena has made up its mind to break away from the BJP and ally with the Congress and the NCP in Maharashtra.
The way things stand, the BJP has no other option but to wait and watch. Perhaps, the clumsy alliance of the Sena, Congress and NCP will collapse like the alliances in Karnataka or Bihar and they will return to Square One.
Or, maybe, it may poach MLAs from other parties to secure a majority.
Or more so, fresh elections will be called soon, in which they win a majority on their own because the voter base of the Shiv Sena is upset that the party teamed up with the very political outfits it has stood against.
Irrespective of how you look at things, this is not a good position to be for a party that dominates the political scene all over the nation, and which was expected to secure a second term in office. If the betrayal is relentless, it is not the betrayer who is to be blamed.