(Dr Pentapati Pullarao, New Delhi)
Films have made the Trojan War in Greece thousands of years ago famous. It was the famous war fought over a queen named “ Helen of Troy “. The great hero of the Trojan War was Achilles, who could never be defeated in war. But the weakness of Achilles was his heel, which if wounded could kill him and that is how the great Greek hero died. His enemies got a sharp shooter to only aim for his heel and thus killed the un-defeatable Achilles . Similarly, today BJP looks un-defeatable . But Maharashtra is the Achilles heel of Narendra Modi and the BJP knows it.
Even in medicine, the illness with the severe incurable pain in the heels is called “ Achilles heel “.
Maharashtra is much in the news constantly as the BJP tries to keep its opponent government in a tension mode. Recently, another Maharashtrian leader Raj Thackeray has been raising controversial issues and the political temperature is heating up. Whether it is Hindutva or political revenge or Bollywood controversies, Maharashtra is always in the news. The BJP knows that Maharashtra has now become a critical state for the 2024 parliament elections.
Neither Narendra Modi or other BJP leaders talk about it. But the biggest challenge for the BJP is Maharashtra, which is a large State with 48 MPs . Till 2019, BJP had a continuous ally Shiv sena for 30 years. Due to ambition and conspiratorial role played by Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena broke its alliance with BJP and an anti- BJP government led by Shiv Sena was formed in November, 2019. Shiv Sena allied with the Congress and Sharad Pawar, who were its opponents since the formation of Shiv Sena.
A great writer George Bernard Shaw famously said “ Politics makes strange bedfellows “. He meant that the worst enemies become political allies.The BJP is unable to solve the problem that Maharashtra poses to winning 2024 elections. In mathematics, there is one right answer. But in politics any answer can be right. But BJP has not been able to find an answer to Maharashtra threat, ever since the formation of Shiv sena Government in 2019.
The BJP is strong in the Hindi belt. But since BJP won 95% MPs in some States, it is only natural that it may lose some MPs in 2024. Similarly, in Bengal, the BJP won 18 out of 42 MPs in 2019. That number may come down in Bengal.
In 2024, BJP may even lose some MPs in Karnataka, if it fails to win the 2023 state elections in Karnataka. All such things are normal in politics. But the problem which seems without a solution is Maharashtra. The Shiv sena, Sharad Pawar and Congress are enjoying un-expected power and why should they fight between themselves and lose it ?
Why Maharashtra is important to the BJP:
Whenever Maharashtra gives a good number of MPs to the BJP, it forms the central Government. In 1999, when Atal Behari Vajpayee became prime minister, Maharashtra gave 28 MPs out of 48 to the BJP alliances. In 2014 and 2019, Maharashtra gave a huge number of 41 MPs to the BJP alliance.
- The formation of the Shiv sena MVA government in 2019 came as a big shock. The BJP innocently thought that the Congress would never agree to an alliance with a party like the Shiva sena. But not only Congress agreed, the alliance is still strong .
- The BJP miscalculated that Shiv sena had no alternative but to continue its alliance with it. The BJP felt it could not hand over Chief Ministership to Shiv sena, as it had become an unreliable ally. The BJP faced a difficult choice and decided not to trust Shiv sena.
- The BJP also failed in the Maharashtra state elections in 2019 badly, led by former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The BJP won 105 MLAs in 2019, while it won 122 MLAs in 2014. Devendra Fadnavis used his position as Chief minister to punish his BJP rivals and denied tickets to nearly 40 strong politicians , who sabotaged the BJP. Fadnavis is a failed chief Minister and .BJP should have dumped him after the elections .
- The BJP also had to face the cunning 82 year old Sharad Pawar, who has been a legislator for last 55 years. Sharad Pawar is famous as the most craftiest political survivor in India. Sharad Pawar gave sound advice to Uddhav Thackeray to switch if he wants to become Chief Minister.
- Sharad Pawar also knows that if the BJP does not control Maharashtra , then BJP will not win a big number of MPs. The BJP is fully aware of this problem. The BJP has been losing by-elections in Maharashtra now.
- The Shiv Sena alliance is also giving leadership to other anti- BJP parties in the country. The BJP looks weak as Maharashtra is a very big state . Maharashtra is the only State in India where the entire anti- BJP Opposition is united.
What can the BJP do ?
If the Shiv sena government continues till 2024 election, then the BJP will face problems to capture a majority and weakness of BJP in Maharashtra will bring unity in its opponents across India.
In 2019 Assembly elections, the BJP won 37% of the votes. The Shiv Sena won 19%, Sharad Pawar 19% and the Congress 15%, totaling 53%. In politics, such numbers mean nothing. But still, the BJP faces a superior opponent in the 3-Party alliance.
a. The BJP is very active politically in Maharashtra. It is trying to win over the vote bank of the Shiv sena, saying that Shiv Sena is no different from the Congress and it has abandoned Bal Thackeray’s policies. This will have an impact slowly on the Shiv sena.
b. The BJP is also trying to win over leaders of other parties like Raj Thackeray, the smaller parties and disgruntled leaders of the Shiv sena alliance. In fact, in November, 2019, the BJP lured Ajit Pawar, the powerful nephew of Sharad Pawar and formed a short-lived government.
c. As the Shiv Sena alliance is in power now, many disgruntled leaders will not quit the party now. They will wait till the elections are announced to see how strong the BJP has become.
d. The Bombay Corporation election is coming in a few months. With the help of the BJP, Shiv sena has ruled Bombay Municipal Corporation for over 30 years continuously,. That is the main strength of the Shiv sena. Even now, the Shiv sena has majority due to the BJP. If the Shiv sena wins the Bombay elections, then it will be difficult to remove.
Maharashtra politics : One of the greatest leaders of India was Chatrapathi Shivaji of Maharashtra, who lived from 1630-1680. One of the strengths of Shivaji was that he would make and break alliances easily and use all methods to win against his enemies. Even today, Maharashtra politics follows that flexible style. Sharad Pawar represents the essential Maratha .
Maharashtra government today depends totally on Sharad Pawar, without whom Shiv sena government will collapse immediately. The BJP has been trying to win over Sharad Pawar. But Sharad Pawar has too high a price.
At 82 years and with cancer, Sharad Pawar feels that even today he can become Prime Minister. For that to happen, Sharad Pawar knows that Maharashtra government must survive and defeat the BJP in 2024.The BJP knows that Sharad Pawar wants to be Prime Minister and that is a job the BJP cannot offer.
In this backdrop, the coming Bombay municipal elections are most important for the BJP. It is a difficult to defeat the Shiv sena, since both the Congress and Sharad Pawar will be supporting it. But if the BJP can stop Shiv sena from capturing Bombay Municipal corporation, then the road to Narendra Modi in 2024 will be clear .
The top BJP leaders know that Maharashtra has become the biggest block against BJP government in 2024. After the emphatic BJP win in the most important Uttar Pradesh, the Opposition is worried. But the BJP knows the real problem is Maharashtra and Sharad Pawar. Time will tell us how BJP will meet the challenge of Maharashtra and Sharad Pawar tested. (Author is a prominent political analyst)