A saving grace
All of Devendra Fadnavis’s postures and pieties while resigning as four-day chief minister could not mask the bare facts that must deeply embarrass him and his party, in the state and at the Centre: The BJP had to exit the arena in Maharashtra because it was left with little choice after Ajit Pawar decided to switch sides again on Tuesday afternoon, and with the Supreme Court having stepped in to call for an immediate floor test on Wednesday. That is, in Maharashtra, the BJP was both outplayed by its rivals in the bareknuckled political game it so enjoys, and snubbed for its apparent constitutional transgressions by the umpire, the apex court. With Fadnavis’s resignation, the field has now been cleared for the Shiv-Sena-NCP-Congress to prove their majority and form a government. But the sorry saga that played out in public view over the last few days will not easily fade away. It demands a greater reckoning, and more accountability, by all the institutions and authorities that colluded in undermining the constitutional rules of the game, in letter and spirit. On Constitution Day, the cloak-and-dagger pre-dawn lifting of president’s rule and swearing-in of a new government in a crucial state by a governor after a prime minister invoked an extraordinary provision to circumvent the need for a cabinet meeting was a tawdry image and a taint.
The taint is, most of all, on the BJP. For a party that came to power in 2014 and then again in 2019 with overwhelming mandates riding, largely, on the accumulated fatigue and cynicism of the people vis a vis Congress-dominated regimes, for a party that promised to change the old and bring in the new, it has been strikingly reckless in its own treatment of political norms and institutions. In Maharashtra, there is political blame to be pinned on all major players, with unlikely and opportunistic alliance-making on all sides. But the responsibility for playing fast and loose with the Constitution rests with the BJP. That the doors of the Supreme Court had to be knocked on after the travesty of government formation enacted on Friday-Saturday morning, and that the court had to call for an urgent floor test now, followed by a possible review of the constitutionality of the actions taken by various authorities a few weeks later, must bring a sobering moment of pause for the party that has tripped on its high command’s oversized will-to-win seemingly unconstrained by law or the Constitution.
The next government in Maharashtra starts with an unclean slate. The Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress will have to battle and rein in their several inner contradictions, ensure that they do not overwhelm governance. It will also be their responsibility to ensure that the dark manoeuvres of the last few days do not leave a lasting impression in a state famed for getting on with it.