Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Nov 15, 2019
Dissecting the Maharashtra political impasse: Reinforcement of regionalisation? As the stalemate over government formation in Maharashtra lingered on, triggered by the power tussle between the national ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its politically ascendant regional ally in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena, the state eventually got drifted in a constitutional crisis which culminated into the declaration of President Rule on Tuesday. In the light of the ongoing political logjam, it is imperative to make an attempt to comprehend what the ongoing impasse that emanated from the recent state elections in Maharashtra, reveals about the evolving patterns of the Indian political landscape. In a humungous and diverse polity like India which is governed under democratic conditions, every election has the possibility of unfolding new and multi-layered dynamics in the political discourse. If one delves into the post-election scenario not only in Maharashtra but also in Haryana, it is the political rejuvenation of the regional forces that emerges as the domineering development in both the states. It is true that the ruling BJP has emerged as the single largest party in both the states, arresting the anti-incumbency challenge, and the national opposition party, Congress had managed to engineer a political revival in Haryana to some extent, despite its poor electoral performance in the national elections few months back. But, it is also undeniably clear that it is the regional political actors those have once again proved or is still proving to be most instrumental in the government formation in both the states. The evolving scenario probably once again raises the speculation if this moment witnesses a beginning of a concerted revival of regional forces which might decentralize or de-centre the evolving trajectory of the Indian political discourse.

The Resurgence of Regional Actors

The results of the elections in Maharashtra have triggered a long-winding political consternation between two political forces that not only fought this particular election together but have been all weather political allies from a long time, despite occasional bickerings. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance started with the political prominence of Shiv Sena, a major regional force, over the then relatively weaker BJP in Maharashtra in the 1980s. But with the political ascendency of BJP throughout India, bolstered by its spectacular electoral victories especially since 2014, it gradually emerged as a senior partner to the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra as well. So as this election results saw a dip in BJP’s seat share, Shiv Sena saw this as an opportunity to scale pressure on BJP to bargain for an equal political space along with the BJP as constantly being reiterated by the Shiv Sena as a 50:50 formula of power-sharing with a rotational Chief Ministership for 2.5 years from each party. On one hand, BJP in Maharashtra looks politically besieged by its regional ally as it was unable to form the government on its own despite invitation from the governor.  On the other hand, it is the another powerful regional actor in Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) who gave a spirited fight and emerged as the fundamental driving force in this election who presently holds the clout along with its junior ally Congress, to support Shiv Sena to form the government, hence keeping BJP out of power in the state.  As the rapidly changing political development suggests, Shiv Sena has exited from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on NCP’s bidding to obtain its support in government formation. Even the Congress party, who is now reduced to a fourth player in the state, seems to be getting persuaded by its senior ally in Maharashtra, NCP to support the Sena government despite hesitation of the Congress high command. As the state of Maharashtra is currently under President rule, Shiv Sena appears to be undeterred and is communicating with NCP and Congress for the tasking of drafting a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) for a possible non-BJP alliance government in the state. Hence, it is the politically significant calls taken by regional parties like Shiv-Sena to severe its long time ties with BJP and of NCP to persuade Congress to support a possible Shiv Sena government, probably have altered the existing dynamics of Maharashtra politics.

The Indispensability of Regional Support

If the unfolding development in Maharashtra reveals that how BJP’s inability to keep its regional ally into confidence and keep it in good humour, took away the opportunity of staying in power in the state and precipitated a crisis, the story of Haryana suggests just the reverse. In Haryana, BJP’s timely co-option of the new regional political outfit, Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) as its coalition partner in the government by conceding to most of its demands, facilitated BJP to retain power in the state despite not being the majority party in the house. Hence, in Haryana too, it is the regional political outfit which emerged as the “king maker” and ultimately determined the government formation in Haryana and hence it’s safe to assume that JJP would continue to wield considerable influence and pose demands regarding governmental power sharing in exchange of their support to BJP, as the prolonged delay in the formation might indicate.

The Balance between Centralising-decentralising Political Discourses

Until recently, the political trajectory of Indian politics witnessed the ubiquitous rise of the national ruling party, BJP across most of the states in India since 2014, with few exceptions. On the other hand, the principal opposition party, Congress and the other regional parties appeared to be politically weak, susceptible to be overshadowed, cornered or co-opted by the dominant ruling dispensation. But this election once again brought the possibility of rejuvenation of the centrifugal regional actors which acts as a possibility of decentralization of the political discourse as an antidote to BJP’s overwhelming political juggernaut. History bears testimony to the fact that it was in the heyday of over-arching Congress dominance in 1970s and 1980s, that the powerful regional actors like Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, N.T. Rama Rao led Telegu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh , Farooq Abdullah led National Conference in Kashmir, M.G. Ramachandran led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu emerged to politically balance the preponderance of the Congress party over the Indian polity.  The evolving scenario in both the states once again probably reinforces the long-held proposition regarding the federal structure of the Indian state that the resilience of a diverse polity like India lies in the fine balancing act between the national and the regional political actors. Intermittent dominance and co-existence of the centralizing as well as decentralizing political forces probably marks the grammar of Indian politics. As the state remains under president rule and hectic parleys regarding government formation continues in full swing, it remains to be seen whether the ensuing political churning in Maharashtra will actually herald the possibility of a new phase of regionalization of the Indian political discourse that is integral for the consolidation of multi-party democracy and a vibrant federal polity or the emerging scenario would be relegated as a momentary aberration in history.
Acknowledgement: The author would like to acknowledge Prof. Rakhahari Chatterji, Adviser, Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata for his valuable guidance and inputs in drafting the article.
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Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Ambar Kumar Ghosh is an Associate Fellow under the Political Reforms and Governance Initiative at ORF Kolkata. His primary areas of research interest include studying ...

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