The suspense over government formation in Maharashtra came to an end on Thursday, 28 November, after Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray became the first chief minister from the Thackeray clan. Supported by the Congress party and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), against whom the Shiv Sena fought for decades, Thackeray is now the chief minister of the Maha Vikas Aghadi, the alliance of convenience between these parties with diametrically opposite ideologies. The Bahujan Vikas Aghadi’s members of legislative assembly (MLA) and other independents have also supported the alliance that has two goals, firstly to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of power and, secondly, to retain power at any cost.
Since the assembly election results were out in the last week of October, a high-voltage drama started over government formation in Maharashtra, which would have given any speculator run for the money. The three-decade-old BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, which was formed under the aegis of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — during the heydays of Ayodhya movement — collapsed after the BJP, which won 105 seats in the 288-seat assembly, declined the Shiv Sena’s demand for the chief minister’s position for half the tenure. The Shiv Sena, with 56 MLAs, was lured with the chief minister’s seat by the NCP patron Sharad Pawar and the Congress party, who won 54 and 44 seats respectively.
As Pawar & Co managed to snatch Maharashtra from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, despite the RSS and the BJP throwing all their resources to retain the cash-rich state — imposing a President’s Rule, splitting the NCP through a family feud, and by waking up the RSS-deputed governor at 5.47am in the morning to administer the swearing-in of Devendra Fadnavis as the chief minister and NCP’s Ajit Pawar as the deputy chief minister — the parliamentary opposition camp and liberal democrats got an opportunity to merry around. The temporary halt of the BJP’s juggernaut was marketed as a victory against Hindutva fascism, ironically with a Shiv Sena chief minister as an alternative to Fadnavis.
While Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee supported the Maha Vikas Aghadi’s government formation in Maharashtra, her bete noire Communist Party of India (Marxist) — the chieftain of Indian parliamentary left opportunism — welcomed the government, ignoring the sheer opportunist character of the alliance. Almost all anti-BJP and so-called secular political parties are extending their moral support to the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress party alliance calling it a pragmatic alternative to the Hindutva fascist juggernaut of Modi-Shah that is pulverizing opposition and demolishing the parliamentary system.
The crucial political questions that arise today, which are a spoilsport for the ebullient parliamentary opposition and the liberal democrats are, whether the formation of such an alliance is a moral victory for secular and democratic forces? Can the BJP be defeated by the Shiv Sena, a bigger and feral Hindutva fascist outfit with extreme parochial outlook? Can the Shiv Sena be absolved of its past crimes, ranging from the Babri Masjid demolition to the macabre massacre of Muslims during the Mumbai riots of 1992 and 1993? Will the Shiv Sena discard its Hindutva fascist agenda for the sake of its alliance or will the NCP and the Congress shed their sham secular attire to reveal their Hindutva fascist core?
Answers to these questions are found in the pages of modern Indian political history. When Ram Manohar Lohia, the Gandhian socialist, joined hands with the RSS and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) — the precursor of the BJP — to defeat the Congress party in the 1960s, he declared that he can even ally with the devil to bring down the Congress’s tyrannical rule. Lohia believed he would be able to transform the RSS. Even Jay Prakash Narayan, the anti-communist Gandhian leader who played a pivotal role in the anti-emergency struggle, thought that he would be able to transform the RSS by making the BJS members a part of his Janata Party.
History proved that the RSS wasn’t transformed; it retained its venomous character but sucked the life out of the Lohiaists and the political successors of Narayan. Since the 1970s, the RSS has gained immensely and the Lohiaists and Narayan followers failed drastically to make any headway in Indian politics. By 1990, the BJP, which was formed in 1982 and had only two members of parliament in 1984, became one of the largest parties in the parliament and in 2019, when it returned to power riding on Hindutva jingoism and bigotry, the Lohiaists and Narayan followers were cast to the political oblivion. Hindutva fascism became the dominant political theme of India, subjugating all forces that swore allegiance to secularism, pluralism and democracy.
Now, when the Congress party and the NCP have formed an alliance with the Shiv Sena only to keep the BJP aloof from power when they are calling it a strategic victory against the Hindutva fascist menace, then they are actually turning back towards the lessons of history for their own convenience. Their utmost feudal, Brahminical and patriarchal core is exposed when they advocate the alliance with the Shiv Sena and show the purported positive sides of Thackeray’s infamous organisation.
Formed as a rabid anti-Tamil, xenophobic organisation to instigate the Marathi Manoos, the Shiv Sena was deployed by the Congress party as a weapon to destroy the vibrant trade union movements in Maharashtra and use xenophobia and Marathi chauvinism to divide the working class during the 1960s and 1970s. However, the same outfit was hijacked by the RSS in the 1980s and transformed into a pure Hindutva fascist organisation, which even played a crucial role during the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition.
Since then, the Shiv Sena has been far more fascistic than the BJP in the political arena. Today, that very outfit is kosher for the secular brigade as they hail upper-caste Hindu feudal patriarch Pawar’s decision to support Thackeray to become the chief minister of the state, but they don’t realise that by partnering with the Shiv Sena these so-called secular parties are further isolating the marginal people, the minority communities and oppressed people. They are closing the doors on the Muslim and marginalised voices for the sake of forming a government that will only fulfil the aspirations of the rich, the feudal classes and upper-caste Hindus. This is the tragedy of Indian mainstream secular politics!
If we talk from the point of political morality, then how fair it was for the Congress party and the NCP to join hands with the Shiv Sena, against which they fought together in the assembly election? How moral was the decision to stitch an alliance with the sole motto of usurping power? How good is the trend of horse-trading, the buying of MLAs for support in government formation in Maharashtra?
The decision of the Congress party and its ally NCP to approach the Shiv Sena exhibited their frustration regarding government formation in Maharashtra. The duo didn’t mind mingling with their foe solely because they wanted a pie of power to keep their house intact. The Hindutva fascist credentials of the Shiv Sena, its past crimes and its sheer disregard for the Constitution were overlooked only to shape the future pragmatic alliance, which itself will live on unstable pillars.
Even in the parliamentary arena of realpolitik, where ideology takes a backseat to allow a full-play to arithmetics, it’s imperative to understand how the Shiv Sena will imminently become an Albatross around the neck of the NCP and the ailing Congress party. These two parties have extolled the Shiv Sena and hallowed it overlooking its past, not only as a communal outfit that perpetrated some of the gory atrocities targeting the minority community but also an infamous organisation when it comes to running an administration.
The cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is controlled by the Shiv Sena. The utmost mismanagement of the BMC, extreme corruption, nepotism and absolute anarchy that prevails in the body prove that the Shiv Sena can only perform well during pogroms, massacres or when it comes to bullying couples sitting in parks. The dismal performance in the past by Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane, two Shiv Sena chief ministers, also prove the inefficiency of the organisation in running a government. It’s not a party that can run an administration and Thackeray, who never held an administrative position, will not be able to resolve the farmers’ crisis, the issue of unemployment caused by a massive slowdown in the economy, etc, unless he is guided by the alliance partners, but the hubris of the Shiv Sena won’t allow its allies to do so.
Even though the Maha Vikas Aghadi is founded on a Common Minimum Programme, it’s unlikely that the Shiv Sena will give up its extremist Hindutva fascist ideology. Even though the BJP ruled Maharashtra from 2014-19 and allowed unbridled plundering of resources by corporates, very few Muslims were arbitrarily arrested and slapped with false charges of terrorism by the Islamophobic Maharashtra Police during this period vis-a-vis the Congress party’s rule. Under the Shiv Sena, the police atrocities on the minority community may rise. The Shiv Sena won’t even be apologetic about such atrocities, rather make the NCP-Congress party endorse them.
With Shiv Sena at the helm, there will be no respite for the activists, lawyers and journalists arrested by the Maharashtra Police under the Unlawful Acts (Prevention) Act, accusing them of instigating violence during the Bhima-Koregaon Dalit rally in January 2018. It’s unlikely that the Shiv Sena-led government will drop all concocted charges and release the activists, lawyers and prominent intellectuals charged with sedition. The Shiv Sena will not allow this unusual alliance for government formation in Maharashtra to take away its ideological commitment towards Hindutva fascism. It will also not allow the state government to investigate the RSS and the BJP for their role behind the Bhima Koregaon violence. For the sake of Hindutva fascism, Thackeray will build a fence around the RSS and the BJP to safeguard their interests as they are identical with his own.
Even for the BJP, the rule of the Shiv Sena-led coalition brings triple advantages. Firstly, it will be able to entice its supporters by showing the lack of decisiveness of the Thackeray regime. Secondly, using a plethora of organisations under the aegis of the RSS, the BJP can stoke communal tension in the state and force the Shiv Sena to assert its Hindutva intensely, which would force the NCP-Congress party to sever ties with it. Thirdly, it will get ample opportunity to woo the MLAs of Shiv Sena and the NCP-Congress party to turn the table and return to power. The NCP-Congress party will lose it big time if the BJP plays its cards right in Maharashtra. Shah, the man entrusted with the job, now has all the time and Karnataka has proved how well he can buy MLAs by paying the right price.
The drama over the government formation in Maharashtra isn’t just over, it merely entered the next stage. This drama indeed exposed the hollowness of the hallowed Indian democracy. When a democracy’s last resort becomes five-star resorts, where elected MLAs have to be locked up to save them from poaching, where loyalty is sold to the highest bidder in flashes, there the people’s trust in the system gradually wanes away. The Maharashtra drama clearly exposed that there are no permanent ideological enemies in Indian mainstream politics, it’s merely a question of convenience and that Hindutva fascism is the focal theme of Indian politics, which can be embraced by any political party. This episode proved that the real alternative to the BJP isn’t there in the parliamentary arena but must be built outside it, in the fields and the streets of India, by mobilising the exploited workers and peasants against the neo-liberal economic model and corporate hegemony. The Pawars of the world will keep compromising with the devil, but the people can’t afford to live under the devil for long.
Based in Maharashtra, Anand Patil is a staunch opponent of opportunist politics and supports democratic voices. He is vocal about Dalit, tribal and Muslim rights and has been a rights activist all his life.