Indians gripped by political drama in Maharashtra state

Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari (left) greeting BJP's Devendra Fadnavis after his swearing-in as chief minister last Saturday. Mr Fadnavis resigned from his post yesterday.
Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari (left) greeting BJP's Devendra Fadnavis after his swearing-in as chief minister last Saturday. Mr Fadnavis resigned from his post yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BJP's Fadnavis resigns as chief minister, along with his deputy; opposition seeks to form govt

The western state of Maharashtra, India's richest, usually grabs the headlines because it is home to the country's financial capital, Mumbai, as well as its movie-making machine, Bollywood.

Since last Saturday, Indians have been glued to their television sets watching a power struggle for control of the state between Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and an alliance of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Congress and the Shiv Sena.

Political developments have been akin to a soap opera, with breathtaking twists and turns including a nephew backstabbing an uncle in the tight-knit, family-run NCP, alliances between former rivals, weekend shenanigans leading to the swearing-in of BJP's Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister and legislators seemingly hopping between rival parties by the hour.

Yesterday, the dramatic developments continued with Mr Fadnavis resigning as chief minister, saying he did not have the numbers to actually form a government.

"The BJP will work as an effective opposition," he said.

Mr Fadnavis' decision came after the Supreme Court on Monday stepped in following a petition filed by the opposition alliance.

It ordered a floor test in the legislature so that Mr Fadnavis could prove his majority. The court said the vote was necessary to bring an end to the political twists to "uphold democratic values and constitutional values".

Maharashtra is an important political prize. Those who rule the state have a finger on the financial pulse of the country.

For now, the state has provided some sort of fillip for the opposition parties, which have suffered a series of political setbacks recently, including a landslide victory by the BJP in federal elections early this year.

 
 
 
 

The current political saga started last month after the BJP emerged as the single largest party in state elections, winning 105 seats but falling short of the majority needed of 145 in the 288-seat state legislative assembly.

Mr Modi's party was unable to form a government after negotiations fell through with its long-time ally, Shiv Sena, which, in turn, entered into negotiations with the rival alliance of the Congress and NCP.

Just as the opposition alliance seemed to be within striking distance of seizing power, Indians woke up to the news that Mr Fadnavis had returned as chief minister with the support of NCP's Ajit Pawar, who was sworn in as deputy chief minister. Mr Pawar had split from his uncle, Mr Sharad Pawar.

Yesterday, Mr Ajit Pawar stepped down as deputy chief minister too.

The opposition alliance has claimed the support of 162 legislators and it has taken extreme steps to keep them from switching sides, including reportedly taking away their mobile phones and confining them in at least three different hotels in Mumbai.

The opposition alliance, its leaders said, would stake its claim to form the government in the next 24 hours.

So, for the moment, the drama remains gripping with political analysts describing developments in Maharashtra as unprecedented, even by the standards of rough-and-tumble Indian politics.

"It is the politics of opportunism, capture power by any means. These are unprecedented events that have taken place," said Professor Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies-Lokniti in New Delhi.

"This is a full-fledged four-hour film," he added, clearly with an eye towards Bollywood.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2019, with the headline 'Indians gripped by political drama inMaharashtra state'. Print Edition | Subscribe