Maharashtra: Options, Confusions And Scenarios
What are the strengths of various political parties, what are the limits for a majority or disqualification, and what are the scenarios that can play out in Maharashtra?
Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde’s sudden rebellion earlier this week, caught everyone off guard. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray took a day to gauge this unexpected development, and one more, to dejectedly figure out that he could count the loyalists left in his Sena on the fingers of his hands.
His ally, Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), was in New Delhi, finalising the opposition presidential candidate, when the balloon went up. Pawar was able to return to Mumbai only by the night of 21 June. Another ally, the Congress, took as long to gather their flock, and organise the dispatch of a seasoned firegfighter, Kamal Nath, to Mumbai.
But the biggest surprise was for the press, who now had to start crunching numbers, and generating scenarios on what might happen. Would the Thackeray government fall? How many MLAs were with Shinde? Would Shinde and his rebels be disqualified? Who had how many numbers in the Maharashtra assembly? What was the halfway mark? What was the house strength? Could the BJP cobble together a government?
In the first 24 hours of this crisis, most media houses put out numbers which they were forced to revise. The implications of such varying numbers, even if only marginal, were critical, since they impacted on every aspect of the crisis. For example, if the Shiv Sena had 56 MLAs, then all rebels would be instantly disqualified unless 38 left in one go; but if the Sena had only 55 MLAs, then the cut-off reduced to 37.
So, in this piece, we shall look at the strengths of the various political parties, what the limits for a majority or disqualification are, and run a few scenarios on how the numbers shift under different conditions and alliances. This is an important exercise, especially if the Governor of Maharashtra accepts Thackeray’s resignation, and invites the BJP to form a new government, rather than calling for fresh elections.
To start with, here is a map showing the results of the 2019 assembly elections:
Next is a table comparing the results of the 2019 assembly elections, with the effective house strength as on date:
The Shiv Sena won 56 seats in 2019, and has the same strength today, but there are changes within. In 2020, Nevasa MLA, SY Gadakh of the Krantikari Shetkari Party (KSP), joined the Shiv Sena, taking the party’s tally up to 57. But in May 2022, the Sena’s MLA for Andheri East, R Latke, unfortunately passed away, bringing their tally back down to 56.
Readers may also note that with Gadakh joining the Sena, the ‘Others’ tally goes down from 13 in 2019, to 12 now.
The NCP won 54 seats in 2019, but that figure came down to 53 in May 2021, when it lost a by-poll for Pandharpur seat to the BJP. That total of 53 is now 51, because two of its MLAs, Anil Deshmukh and Nawab Malik, are in jail and can’t vote.
The BJP won 105 in 2019, which went up to 106 when they wrested Pandharpur from the NCP, and that is where they stand today.
The Congress has stayed static at 44 seats because it won by-polls to the seats it got in 2019.
That means the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition headed by Thackeray started off with a total of 169 MLAs in 2019. That figure went up to 170 in 2020 when the KSP joined the Sena, but has now reduced to 167 on account of Sena MLA Latke’s demise, and the two NCP MLAs being jailed.
Thus, the effective house strength is presently 285 – three less than the 288 seats it is meant to have. This in turn reduces the halfway mark from 145 for a full house, to 143 now.
It is within this confusing frame of numbers that journalists and analysts are trying to game scenarios.
Now, in one scenario, let us assume that 36 Shiv Sena MLAs rebel, and are all disqualified because they don’t make the 37-seat mark to beat the anti-defection law. That brings the MVA’s tally down to 126, the effective house strength down from 285 to 249, and the majority mark from 145 to 125.
Now, also simultaneously assume that five independents presently allied with the MVA switch to the BJP (a real possibility), along with nine ‘Others’ (we have to deduct two of the AIMIM, and the lone Communist seat, since the probability of them aligning with the BJP is remote). That raises the BJP coalition’s strength to 123.
However, as a table below shows, that is not enough to ensure Devendra Fadnavis’s return as Chief Minister, because the BJP would still be two short of the majority mark, and the MVA would still retain a slender majority of one, with 126 seats.
Nonetheless, it is important that we construct and run such scenarios, because they tell us what Eknath Shinde, or the BJP, probably won’t do.
Shinde and his rebels won’t risk disqualification since that means a minimum of six months before they can return to the power game – if they get re-elected. Similarly, the BJP gains nothing from a pack of disqualified Sena MLAs, since they would still struggle to cross the halfway mark, even if they got a number of independents and ‘Others’ on board.
Therefore, as things stand (in the midst of a great deal of flux!), one plausible strategy is for Shinde to corral more than 37 rebels, formally, legally, split the Shiv Sena, and then consider an alliance with the BJP. That is an attractive option to the BJP too, because it obviates the wearisome task of bargaining with a motley crowd of ‘Others’, all of whom would surely demand not just their many pounds of flesh, but the gold out of the BJP’s teeth as well.
Whether that happens, or some new permutation emerges, or whether Thackeray throws in the towel, and calls for fresh elections, however remains to be seen.
Also Read: Game Over For MVA?
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