Majority Vote In The Bag, What's Next For 'ED' Government And Maharashtra's Politics?

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Jul 5, 2022 07:01 PM +05:30 IST
Majority Vote In The Bag, What's Next For 'ED' Government And Maharashtra's Politics?Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis. (Twitter)
Snapshot
  • With Shinde-Fadnavis government proving its majority in Maharashtra Assembly, the focus now shifts to better governance and restarting crucial stalled projects.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde of the Shiv Sena, and his ally, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), formally proved their coalition’s majority in the assembly on 4 July. They got 164 votes, against 99 for the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition, which consists of the Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray faction, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Congress.

This trust vote marks the conclusion of Shinde’s rebellion against the Thackerays, the paradigmatic return of the BJP to government in Maharashtra, and the merciful end of a patently unworkable, inherently contradictory, MVA experiment. What remains is a primordial aftermath, and a cogent assessment.

The voting numbers reveal much disquiet in MVA ranks. Only 263 members, out of a house strength of 288, cast their votes. 20 of these 25 uncast votes were absentees — 11 Congress, six NCP (two of whom are in jail), two BJP (both unwell), and one from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). Three were abstentions — two from the Samajwadi party (SP), and one from the AIMIM. One seat, Andheri East, is vacant, since its incumbent passed away in May 2022.

Seventeen absentees and two abstentions from the MVA is a large number, even if those votes wouldn’t have changed the outcome. It augurs a marginalisation of the identity vote, particularly in the Mumbai-Thane region, since the two SP MLAs are from this region, and both are Muslims.

The AIMIM wasn’t part of the MVA government, but it knows that its win in Aurangabad Lok Sabha seat, in 2019, was only because of differences between the Sena and the BJP. Same goes for Dhule City assembly constituency, which it won with just 29 per cent of the popular vote in 2019; in 2014, the BJP won here with 37 per cent, in contest against the Shiv Sena.

Thus, the cracks in the MVA reflect a larger truth, that, with the bulk of the Sena joining hands with the BJP once again, vote banking will offer secular parties poor returns in elections to come. One side is looking at a sweep; the other, at a washout. Perhaps that is why the NCP’s Ajit Pawar, leader of opposition in the Maharashtra assembly, made a warily casual, and wistfully conciliatory, speech filled with barbs during the trust vote session.

He knows that a BJP assault on the Pawar bastion of Western Maharashtra is coming, and that this time, the NCP’s fortress will finally be breached — in broad daylight, and without a ghorpad.

But those portends are minor compared to the ones the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena faces. Already, the Sena chief whip has submitted a suspension notice for 15 Sena MLAs to the Speaker’s office, for voting against the confidence motion.

Aaditya Thackeray somehow doesn’t seem to have accepted that his Sena is no longer his. The scion was seen lamenting plaintively to a rebel Sena MLA about the split, and urging the MLA to reconsider his decision.

Naturally, the emotional appeal cut no ice, and only served to underscore the futility of imperious delusions. Instead, Thackeray loyalist MLA Santosh Bangar switched sides to the Shinde camp during the vote, and it is Aaditya Thackeray who now runs a risk of being disqualified from the assembly, and humiliatingly expelled from the party his family founded. Who’s the rebel now?

Yet even such issues pale before a tragicomic example of confusion in the Thackeray faction: their decision to appoint dead sainiks to party posts in Mumbai. This is not a joke: Prakash More, who was appointed to Ward-10 of Mira-Bhaiyander, passed away some years ago; and Bhaskar Rode, who was appointed to Ward-3 in the same area, passed away last year.

These cracks, confusions, and disarray, are, of course, music to the BJP and Shinde’s ears, and they didn’t miss the opportunity to make a few digs at the opposition during the confidence motion. Devendra Fadnavis actually thanked the MVA MLAs who were absent during the vote, and managed to keep a straight face while doing so.

He wasn’t so lucky when Chief Minister Shinde chose to demonstrate just how cosy the relationship between the Sena and the BJP was. Shinde indulged in good-natured ribbing to such an extent that Fadnavis was forced to hide his face in his palms, in mirthful embarrassment, while the treasury benches rang with peals of laughter.

And so it should be, because the 2019 mandate was for a Sena-BJP government, which Thackeray unilaterally junked to join hands with his polar ideological opposites — the NCP and the Congress. As a result, this restitution of a natural order has greater, and more, consequences than we may even begin to list. But a few early stirrings are already visible.

The new government’s first act was to reverse the MVA’s decision on a contentious metro car shed, on Mumbai’s vital, and sorely-delayed, Aqua Line 3 (underground, linking Colaba to Bandra to Seepz). Now, the shed will be built at Aarey Milk Colony, as originally proposed, and the metro work is expected to be completed in record time.

Similarly, we can expect a go-slow, which had beleaguered work on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train line, to soon become a thing of the past.

But the biggest impact will be in a clean-up of the state bureaucracy. During the MVA term, the headlines were frequently filled with accusations of high-handedness, heavy-handedness, and motivated behaviour — particularly against political opponents and those who refused to toe the line.

For example, readers would have noticed how the recent murder of a pharmacist in Amaravati, by alleged Islamists, stayed largely out of the news until a new cabinet took office. Along with that, but unrelated, the Enforcement Directorate has, this week, issued a summons to retired, former Mumbai Police Commissioner, Sanjay Pandey (appointed during the MVA term), in the NSE co-location scam probe.

Perhaps some clarity may finally emerge on the murky deaths of actor Sushant Singh Rajput and his manager, Disha Salian, in 2020, and justice may be served. Equally, we can expect that the sordid, motivated reasons behind the attack on senior anchor Arnab Goswami, his arrest, and his hounding, will now come out.

These revelations and administrative decisions will have consequences, but that is the way the MVA cookie crumbles, because the recent political changes in Maharashtra are presently irreversible, largely inevitable, and woefully overdue.

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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