Fadnavis Is Back: Seven Things Which Will Decide The Future Of His Government And Maharashtra’s Politics

by Aashish Chandorkar - Nov 23, 2019 03:50 PM +05:30 IST
Fadnavis Is Back: Seven Things Which Will Decide The Future Of His Government And Maharashtra’s Politics Devendra Fadnavis after taking oath as chief minister (CMO Maharashtra/Twitter) 
  • The first definite challenge coming up is the election of the Speaker of the new legislative assembly.

Surgical strike! That’s the easiest way to describe the events in Maharashtra on the intervening night of 22 and 23 November.

The state, under President’s Rule since 12 November, got Devendra Fadnavis as the Chief Minister (CM) today morning in an unexpected turn of events. President’s Rule was revoked at 5.47 am and the CM took oath around 7.30 am.

Ajit Pawar, the legislative leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) until this morning, was sworn in the as Deputy Chief Minister. The initial conjecture was that the NCP was supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However, Sharad Pawar, the NCP chief, clarified via Twitter that Ajit Pawar had acted on his own.

An NCP spokesperson clarified that the signatures of the NCP Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) used in the ongoing parlays between Congress, Shiv Sena and the NCP for the government formation were wrongly used by Ajit Pawar to back the BJP.

If that is indeed the case, what happens next? The BJP camp is obviously happy with the developments. But the government now needs to prove the majority on the floor of the House.

In that regard, here are seven unfolding and potential developments that must be followed closely by anyone seeking to get insights into Maharashtra’s politics.

Firstly, there will be legal and procedural complications.

Since Ajit Pawar was the leader of the NCP legislative party, it was his job to issue a whip to the NCP MLAs. He has been removed from the post this morning, but will that be accepted by the Governor or the new Speaker?

If he gets the support of half of the NCP MLAs, can he again become the leader of the legislative party even if he has been removed?

Secondly, the assembly will now be convened and election of the Speaker is the first important milestone. Karnataka, Telangana and Tamil Nadu assemblies have gone through turmoil and changes in the last year or so – what has stood out in all of those episodes was the role of the Speaker.

Can the BJP ensure its Speaker its elected? If yes, that will be half the battle won towards the floor test.

Both the items – Ajit Pawar’s position as NCP legislative leader and the election of the Speaker itself – will likely get challenged in the Courts.

Of course, this depends on the real intent of the NCP and the Congress in the government formation. Were they stringing Shiv Sena all along? That question will be answered sooner than later.

Thirdly, assuming that all current MLAs take oath and the BJP gets its Speaker, will there be a voice vote or a division on the floor?

In 2014, the NCP had backed the Devendra Fadnavis government suo moto. The trust vote he won was essentially a voice vote. The same can be repeated this time. In this event, the opposition can bring in a no-confidence motion later, but the government will survive for the time being.

Fourthly, the government formation itself is a signalling mechanism for other parties. Will some of the Shiv Sena MLAs revolt? If the government survives the initial tests, the probability of this will increase.

Many MLAs will feel cheated with how the events have played out in the last month. They were part of the government in the outgoing term and would be left with nothing in hand now. Their loyalty to the Shiv Sena First Family will then be tested.

Fifthly, the Congress MLAs who won partly due to the anti-incumbency in Vidarbha and partly due to the NCP resurgence in Western Maharashtra, may also reconsider their options.

The party can still win a few seats locally, but a longer drought away from power in the state will lead to a continued exodus in the years to come.

Even the smaller parties and the Independents generally tend to back the government to ensure that they get what they want for their individual constituencies. Possession is half the law. A sitting government is almost all the law!

Sixthly, it is highly unlikely that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah would venture into this government formation without reasonable confidence of pulling it through.

They were quiet for a month but the first to wish CM Fadnavis via Twitter as soon as the oath-taking ceremony was completed. Modi and Shah would not have wanted to play a losing game.

Lastly, even if this government were to fall in the coming days, it still does not augur very well for the Shiv Sena-Congress-Sharad Pawar-led NCP alliance.

Assuming all their MLAs stay loyal, their combined tally is 154. That’s only 10 more than the halfway mark. Even if they were to form an alternative government in the event of the Fadnavis government falling, it will always remain on the tenterhooks.

Besides, the distrust between the three parties has not been bridged. Congress did not even attend the press conference addressed by Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray today afternoon, called to denounce the BJP efforts!

In the last month, Devendra Fadnavis earned sympathy especially in the urban parts of the state, after the electorate saw the continued power-sharing discussions between the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the NCP.

Most of the BJP supporters at this stage may not mind this move, though a month ago, the BJP going with the NCP officially would have been an anathema to them.

Mathematically, the BJP and the NCP were always going to be formidable just based on social coalitions. Whether Ajit Pawar can transfer the social coalition to this new arrangement will be tested in the months to come – soon enough if any bypolls are necessitated due to the anti-defection process or due to MLAs quitting to join the BJP.

This leaves Shiv Sena in the lurch. The studied month-long silence on the part of Amit Shah drove Shiv Sena to become a regional, secular party.

The celebrations on the Ram Janmabhoomi decision were muted, Thackeray cancelled his plan to visit Ayodhya and to meet BJP veteran leader L.K. Advani, and played down its earlier demand to award Bharat Ratna to Veer Savarkar.

Social media supporters of the Congress and the NCP confidently underwrote this u-turn on a daily basis. What message will the Shiv Sena take to its voters in the future?

Just a couple of days ago, Shiv Sena got its mayor in Ullasnagar with the support of Congress and the NCP. The BJP also lost Latur mayor election but retained Nashik through the help of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The political battle lines have already been redrawn in the state, ahead of today’s move.

The next important milestone for Maharashtra – the election to the Speaker of the newly convened legislative assembly.

Aashish Chandorkar is Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He took up this role in September 2021. He writes on public policy in his personal capacity.
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