Eknath Sambhaji Shinde is now the chief minister of Maharashtra. Devendra Fadnavis was kept in the wings while the spotlight chose Shinde. Why?
Possible five answers:
The Maharashtra Assembly deputy speaker suspended 16 MLAs on orders of the Thackeray Sena. The status of these MLAs is still sub judice and the Supreme Court will deliver its verdict on July 11.
It seems like a catch 22 situation. The status of the entire set of rebels remains uncertain, with or without the Apex court’s verdict. If the court rules in favour of disqualification: it would have meant conceding Thackeray’s contention that his faction represents the real Shiv Sena. The second option would have meant a long and complicated legal tussle, which would have been difficult for the rebels to sustain.
DOUBTS REGARDING REBEL SHIV SENA MLAS
Since the beginning of Shinde’s rebellion, two groups within the camp became evident. This became even more clear as the group became bigger. The splinters within the rebel camp, while in Guwahati, could have called off the entire Operation Lotus. Somewhere, the lurking fear also remained: was it a rebellion against Uddhav or a was it a want to divorce the Shiv Sena and amalgamate with the BJP.
APPEASEMENT OF THE MARATHAS
The Maratha ideology must be retained to keep the power balance intact. If BJP took over in entirety, would the electorate have forgiven them in the next elections? This equation keeps the power operators in check and the mandate in control. The repeated references to Balasaheb Thackeray during Fadnavis’ address on Thursday indicates that the BJP wants to send the message that Shinde’s Sena is the real Sena. Shinde’s appointment is also an olive branch to the influential Maratha community in Maharashtra.
EYE ON LOK SABHA ELECTIONS, CONTAINING FADNAVIS
The move also needs to be seen in the context of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Even if the Sena rebels overcame the legal challenges and a BJP-led government was formed in Maharashtra, it would have pushed Uddhav Thackeray and much of the Sena rank and file towards the UPA camp. An alliance between Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena, NCP, and Congress would have been a formidable one and put forward a strong fight in the 48 seats of Maharashtra. The NDA won 41 out of 48 seats in Maharashtra in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Against a combined NCP-Congress-Sena (Uddhav Thackeray) alliance, the NDA would have incurred heavy losses. Some would also say that appointing Shinde instead of Fadnavis may be the Modi-Shah way of containing Fadnavis.
SOCIAL AND POLITICAL MESSAGING
Operation Lotus and the move to make Shinde CM comes with a tacit message to other “family-run parties.” It is an invitation to every possible Eknath Shinde in these parties: “gather courage and rebel, the BJP will support you.” It is also to assert that the BJP supports leaders from a common background to take on those with hereditary privilege.
Not that the BJP does not have its own share of dynasts, but this is how the narrative may be spun.