Explained: Political Gangs of Maharashtra

By Deepak | Published: April 3, 2024 07:58 PM2024-04-03T19:58:28+5:302024-04-03T19:59:39+5:30

Politics in Maharashtra has never been as twisted as it is today. Imagine sworn enemies becoming bedfellows and vice ...

Explained: Political Gangs of Maharashtra | Explained: Political Gangs of Maharashtra

Explained: Political Gangs of Maharashtra

Politics in Maharashtra has never been as twisted as it is today. Imagine sworn enemies becoming bedfellows and vice versa. Add to it players such as Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi who can swing either ways. And then you have a Manoj Jarange Patil who has been polarising Maratha community demanding reservation. Being countered by the OBCs who fear the politically powerful Marathas eating into their reservation pie. And we still haven’t talked about a certain Raj Thackeray who takes the opposite political position of his cousin Uddhav Thackeray in each election. Maharashtra politics used to far simpler earlier. You had a Congress party where you could find leaders who ruled generations after generations. You had a Shiv Sena that spoke of Marathi Manus and you had a Bharatiya Janata Party that tagged along with Shiv Sena. There were left forces in the form of Janata Dal, Peasants and Workers Party and even the Communist Party of India, but their appeal was in pockets and most of the times, they aligned with the Congress party.

The 1st real non-Congress government

The tectonic shift came in 1995 when Shiv Sena broke the shackles of being confined to just Mumbai-Thane and Konkan belt, BJP added in strong numbers and the rebel Congressmen were elected as independents in large numbers. A right-wing non-Congress government was installed for the first time with support from rebel Congressmen (interestingly, some of them kept moving back and forth and are still doing so). The government would have completed its full term, had the Sena-BJP been a little patient. Overjoyed by the split in Congress that led to the birth of Nationalist Congress Party, late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan coaxed late Balasaheb Thackeray to call for early elections. The results were unexpected as the Sena-BJP alliance could not reach the magic number. NCP decided to bury the hatchet with the Congress temporarily and formed the government. They ruled for the next 15 years, mostly bickering with each other in absence of a strong opposition.

It was the 2014 Narendra Modi tsunami that changed Maharashtra’s complexion, yet again. Shiv Sena and BJP had parted ways in the state as the BJP, basking in the glory of Modi wave, wanted a lion’s share. BJP emerged as the single largest party but needed another partner to form the government. Shiv Sena under Uddhav Thackeray was driving a hard bargain. It was also this time that Devendra Fadnavis famously told the television cameras that an alliance with the corrupt NCP was just not possible. And yet, NCP chief Sharad Pawar inexplicably offered unconditional outside support to the BJP. Sena had no choice but to go into the BJP fold as the legislators, having been out of power for over 15 years, wanted back in.

History made

This should have been an easy ride thereafter. Sena was firmly with Narendra Modi, but kept running into skirmishes with Devendra Fadnavis, who was all powerful with Delhi backing him all the way. In 2019 assembly elections, both BJP and Sena together cornered 2/3rd of seats in Maharashtra and the alliance should have been back in the saddle without much fuss. But Uddhav claimed Amit Shah had promised him Sena will get the CM’s post even if their numbers were lesser than the BJP and insisted he must keep his promise. BJP rubbished his claim and stood firm, not budging from the second term for Devendra Fadnavis.

It was here that Sharad Pawar played his part. Sensing his chance, he got Congress together and offered the CM’s seat to Shiv Sena. Even as the three were discussing the power sharing, Ajit Pawar broke the ranks and joined with Devendra Fadnavis to form government that didn’t even last for 48 hours. Pawar stood his ground and wrung back the legislators who had joined his nephew. The game changed in a matter of hours and Uddhav Thackeray was installed as the Chief Minister. Both Ajit Pawar joining hands with Fadnavis (who once swore that there was no way of joining hands with NCP) and Thackeray becoming the CM with support from its once arch rival Congress and NCP (that keeps moving at will) were both astonishing events in Maharashtra’s political scene. Shiv Sena was the poster child of Hindutva politics and Congress always claimed secular credentials. And yet they were together.

….and more history made!

Phew! It has been a roller coaster ride so far, right? But the real twists and turns were not over yet. Having lost the power to Pawar-Thacekray duo, a hurt Fadnavis kept chipping at dissenting Sena legislators who were not happy with Thackeray’s style of functioning and Ajit Pawar’s cornering of funds for his own MLAs. Eventually Fadnavis succeeded and got Eknath Shinde to break away with over 40 MLAs from Uddhav Thackeray to form government. There were reports that these MLAs were shown both a carrot (of 50 crores each) and a stick (of central agency cases) that made them take the decision.

This should have been the end of power politics and Shinde-Fadnavis should have ruled happily thereafter. But apparently, it was not enough for the BJP leadership that wanted absolute command in Maharashtra. A repeat of 2019 Loksabha performance needed more vote share. But the tactics of snatching away not just the power but also the party from Uddhav Thackeray apparently did not work well. ‘Pannas khoke, ekdum ok’ slogan was really damaging for Shinde’s Shiv Sena even though he now had the party and the election symbol. So Ajit Pawar was roped in once again, this time not just splitting the party but also the family. And in a mind boggling turn of events, Ajit Pawar once again joined Fadnavis. Ironically, this was just a day after the Prime Minister speaking about the Rs 70000 crore irrigation scam. BJP has seen a lot of incoming over the last two years, including even those like Eknath Khadse who had left the party in a huff and yet, there is no guarantee that the party will be able to replicate the 2019 performance where it had bagged 43 out of 48 seats with its then alliance partner Shiv Sena.

The Jarange-Patil Effect

A Manoj Jarange Patil phenomenon, too, emerged during this time where it seemed like consolidating Maratha vote in the state. Although politically powerful, the community has been demanding reservation that will offer their children low cost education and a chunk of government jobs. Jarange Patil was an unknown entity till a lathi charge on the volunteers galvanized the community into pressing far more vigorously than on previous occasions. A long march that comprised lakhs and lakhs of Maratha volunteers started walking towards Mumbai seeking government assurance. They reached Navi Mumbai and would have thrown Mumbai out of gear had they reached Azad Maidan. But midnight parleys engineered through Eknath Shinde’s emissaries made Jarange Patil to prematurely celebrate fulfilment of their demand. It was only later that Jarange Patil and his followers realised that they have been foxed.

It was around this time that Chhagan Bhujbal, who is part of the incumbent government, decided to take on the mantle of the OBC community, who feared reservation for Marathas from their quota will reduce their share. Bhujbal exchanged barbs with Jarange Patil and even declared he had already resigned on the issue (even though his resignation is yet to be accepted). Thus a Maratha vs OBC polarisation has also been engineered, but it is still not clear which way these communities go.

Which way, VBA?

Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi has been a factor in Maharashtra politics, or specifically in Maharashtra elections. This outfit becomes ultra active a short while before the elections, plays its part, and then disappears only to reappear in the next elections. Their vote share keeps changing, just like their partners- Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Musalmeen had been a part of VBA back in 2019. Today, they aren’t. A few months ago, Uddhav Thackeray and Prakash Ambedkar met, and it was announced that VBA would be partnering with Uddhav’s Shiv Sena. There was a speculation that VBA will soon be accommodated into the MahaVikas Aghadi when the seat sharing for Loksabha would take place. But as the talks began, Prakash Ambedkar started making statements that would create confusion among the MVA partners. Some day, he would claim he didn’t get invited for the talks, then the next day he would insist on an invitation only from the Congress national president. There was one day where he claimed he was open to talks only with Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP as Sena had treated him badly. And then one day he unilaterally declared support to Congress on seven seats of their choice. After this, he started declaring his own candidates. MVA has now almost given up on VBA support and Congress has even fielded its candidate against Prakash Ambedkar.

Raj ka raaz

Raj Thackeray has been one of those leaders in Maharashtra whose speeches, interviews are watched, discussed widely, but after the initial burst, Raj’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena could never make an impact. The number of MLAs kept dwindling, the flag changed, and his positions on Narendra Modi kept changing even faster. Before 2014, he was totally in awe of Modi, and by 2019, he was asking uncomfortable questions with now famous ‘laav re to video’. In 2019 elections, he did not field his candidates. But one notice from the enforcement directorate and his tune changed once again. An inclusive Raj Thackeray who spoke about Marathi Manus in 2007 as he broke away from Shiv Sena, was back flashing Hindutva card to his cousin Uddhav who was the chief minister with Congress and NCP support. Last week he was in Delhi, meeting Amit Shah, sparking speculations that he will join the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. One will have to wait for his Gudi Padwa rally on April 9 to see which way he will go in this elections.

But what about the real issues?

Amidst all of this political hullabaloo, it has been the common voter who seems to have been shortchanged. As the parties and leaders are changing parties and positions, confusion reigns supreme on who to ask about what bothers them- rising unemployment, recruitment exams malpractices, crumbling agriculture, drought like situation in two-third parts of Maharashtra, inflation. Not a single party is talking about these issue. No party has the confidence they can engage voters with these questions, let alone talk about solutions. The political fight in Maharashtra stands reduced to family quarrels, squibbles, and egos. It’s nothing but political gang war and the victim has been the voter.

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