Maharashtra to feel Bihar verdict's aftershocks

There is no clinching evidence to prove whether the people in Pakistan burst crackers to celebrate Narendra Modi-Amit Shah’s humiliation in the Bihar Assembly polls, but one could surely feel a sense of celebration in the Shiv Sena camp here, as the Diwali festivities gained momentum on Sunday afternoon.

Despite not winning a single seat amongst the 150 it had contested independently in Bihar, the Sena found reason to rejoice. It took immense pride in Nitish-Lalu’s historic triumph, as if party chief Uddhav Thackeray also had a hand in the Mahagathbandhan’s victory, tipped to change the direction of political discourse across the country.

Clear parallels can be drawn between Bihar and Maharashtra, especially in terms of BJP’s estranged relations with JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar and Thackeray here. The BJP was Nitish’s ally before pulling out of his government. It was also an ally to the Sena till the two parted ways last year, only to reunite in a post-poll alliance to form the Maharashtra government. The Sena is unhappy with the way it is being treated by the BJP and is looking for avenues to get even with its one-time junior ally in the state. For the Sena, the Bihar development is a ray of hope. That Modi-Shah failed to finish Nitish’s reign and Lalu’s clout there is being perceived as an opportunity for the revival of other regional parties that have been marginalised by the BJP. Now, the Sena will try to put a break to BJP’s march in Maharashtra, a state second only to Uttar Pradesh when it comes to legislative or Parliamentary strength.

This confidence – likely to put the BJP on its toes – comes through in Sena MP Sanjay Raut’s comment. “We’re confident that the Sena will win a majority if the Assembly (mid-term) polls are held at this stage in Maharashtra,” he said, while reacting to the Bihar results. This remarkable rise in the Sena’s confidence level was no doubt boosted by its magnificent performance in the KDMC election last week.

The Sena’s presence may have been symbolic in the Bihar Assembly polls, but in the KDMC polls, it engaged the BJP in a bitter battle, eventually emerging as the single largest party. Just when the two parties were expected to go their separate ways, the BJP made the surprising move of agreeing to Sena’s formula for sharing power. The pact came a day before the Bihar verdict was out, giving credence to the view that the BJP must have foreseen the possibility of faltering in Bihar. The BJP chose not to upset the Sena further by entering into an unholy marriage with other outfits in the KDMC. This move is seen as a band-aid solution until the BJP gathers steam to attempt yet another salvo at the Sena – perhaps, in the upcoming Mumbai and Thane civic polls.

It looks like CM Devendra Fadnavis may not be able to appease the ally for long, but he needs to firewall the impact of the Bihar verdict, which is bound to leave its impression across the country. Maharashtra finds itself in a situation similar to Bihar, with four major stakeholders in the political fray. The BJP, a national party, and the Sena, its regional challenger, are fighting it out against each other to head the next government. The remaining two – the Congress and the NCP have issues to sort out before they can prove themselves – together or divided – as an alternative in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in 2019.

Post-Bihar, Fadnavis has his work cut out. He will be judged not just on his performance in the CM’s office, where he has just completed a year, but also on his political might. He passed his first litmus test in the KDMC polls, where he single-handedly helped to raise the BJP’s strength. However, he could not have his mayor there because of the Sena. With the civic polls of Mumbai, Thane and Pune in 2017, gruelling times lie ahead, not just for the BJP but also for all its allies and rivals.

Meanwhile, the CM also needs to focus on his role as CM, and deliver on the promises he made. He will need to overcome obstacles such as erring bureaucrats (by his own admission), policy paralysis, if any, and ensure peaceful co-existence of diversity in this part of the country. The Bihar election has sent a loud and clear message: the Modi juggernaut has lost momentum.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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