How the BJP regained control of India’s richest state, Maharashtra | Political news

New Delhi, India – India’s wealthiest state has sworn in a new chief minister and deputy, a day after the previous incumbent was forced to resign, ending 10 days of high-profile political drama that , according to experts, was orchestrated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Eknath Shinde of the Shiv Sena party, whose rebellion along with dozens of fellow lawmakers sparked the crisis in the western Indian state, was sworn in as Maharashtra’s chief minister in a ceremony on Thursday in the state capital, Mumbai, also the financial capital of India.

Former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP, who effectively handled the Shiv Sena split, was sworn in as Shinde’s deputy.

Shinde was rewarded by the BJP for his rebellion despite the right-wing party having more legislators in the state assembly than his rebel side.

The developments came a day after Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray announced his resignation as chief minister in a Facebook live broadcast on Wednesday evening, minutes after India’s Supreme Court asked him to step down. a ground test on Thursday to prove his majority.

Uddhav Thackeray greets his supporters after being sworn in as Chief Minister of Maharashtra on November 28, 2019 in Mumbai [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

Thackeray had led a coalition government with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) centrists and Congress parties since 2019 – one of the most unlikely alliances in Indian politics.

Shinde’s government was asked to prove its majority in the state assembly on Monday, while Thackeray’s Shiv Sena filed a petition to the Supreme Court seeking the disqualification of at least 16 rebel lawmakers.

The BJP currently has 106 lawmakers, the Shiv Sena 55, the NCP 53 and the Congress has 43 members out of an assembly of 288 members. A coalition needs 144 votes to stay in power.

The changing of the guard in Maharashtra is a big boost for the Hindu nationalist BJP ahead of the 2024 national elections, in which Modi hopes to win a third consecutive term.

Maharashtra sends the most lawmakers to India’s parliament after the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, also led by the BJP.

Zoya Hasan, a political analyst and former professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera that “taking control of Maharashtra is a very big victory” for Modi’s party.

“The overthrow of Uddhav Thackeray’s government in Maharashtra is a big setback for the opposition because Maharashtra is a hugely important state. It is the financial capital of India, one of the most industrialized and developed states in the country,” she said.

10 days of political drama

Maharashtra’s political crisis began on the night of June 20 when Shinde, 58, announced his revolt against Thackeray and left Mumbai along with 29 other members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA).

Chief Minister of Maharashtra
Shinde gestures before being sworn in as Maharashtra’s chief minister [Rajanish Kakade/AP]

The mutineers were taken to a five-star hotel in Surat, an industrial city in neighboring Gujarat, Modi’s home state which has been ruled by the BJP since 1995. Modi served as the state’s chief minister for 12 years before becoming Prime Minister in 2014. .

In India’s so-called “resort policy”, legislators are often moved to a resort or hotels to prevent them from haggling during a political crisis in a state.

As many of the BJP leaders were meeting lawmakers in Surat, top Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut on June 21 alleged that the rebellion was engineered by the BJP to bring down the Thackeray government – ​​a claim that the BJP denied.

From Surat, the Shiv Sena rebels traveled 2,588 km (1,608 miles) on June 22 to a luxury hotel in Guwahati, the main city in the northeastern state of Assam, another state ruled by the BJP.

In Guwahati, the rebels were reportedly visited at the hotel by the state’s chief minister, while another minister told reporters that dissident MPs were treated as “guests of the state”.

On the night of June 22, Thackeray said he was ready to step down as chief minister if that was what rebel lawmakers wanted. He even left his official residence and moved to his family home as thousands of his supporters marched with the convoy, shouting slogans.

Meanwhile, the number of Shiv Sena rebels rose to 39 in Guwahati, enough to split the party and ensure Thackeray’s withdrawal. And it was time to move again, to another BJP-run state.

They therefore came to Goa two days ago, where they were joined by independent MPs.

In Mumbai, Fadnavis met Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on Tuesday and claimed the Thackeray government had lost its majority.

The next day, Thackeray resigned. However, the seeds of the current political crisis in Maharashtra have already been sown in 2019.

Democracy requires a strong opposition, but the dispensation in power is not very keen on having an opposition, let alone a strong opposition. He would prefer an India without opposition.

by Zoya Hasan, political analyst

What happened in 2019?

Both the BJP and the Shiv Sena claim they represent “Hindutva”, a Hindu supremacist political movement and were therefore traditional allies. Both parties have fought and won numerous state and national elections as coalition partners.

Thackeray, 61, is the son of Bal Thackeray, one of India’s most controversial politicians who in 1966 founded the Shiv Sena on the back of regional Maratha pride. For decades, the party has targeted migrants from Maharashtra as it builds its electoral base on regional xenophobia.

But things changed after the 2019 elections in Maharashtra, which the BJP and Shiv Sena again fought together. Although the BJP won the most seats, the Shiv Sena insisted on a 50-50 power-sharing formula that included rotation of the post of chief minister.

Buoyed by its landslide victory in the national elections a few months earlier, the BJP rejected the Shiv Sena’s request and installed Fadnavis as chief minister in a hasty swearing-in.

But without Thackeray’s support, the BJP government could not prove its majority in the assembly, forcing Fadnavis to resign.

Maharashtra political drama
Thackeray, center, with his son Aaditya in Mumbai on June 29, 2022 [Rajanish Kakade/AP]

Meanwhile, Thackeray has found new partners. The The NCP and the Congress – both considered “secular” parties – joined together to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA).

Analyst Hasan said that although the BJP was the largest party in Maharashtra, three other parties formed an alliance which “worked well except the BJP was not reconciled with being left out of power” .

“From day one, the BJP made several attempts to unseat the Maha Vikas Aghadi government. And this time they succeeded,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that Shinde’s appointment as chief minister is a “very smart move” by the BJP.

“This was done to strengthen Shinde’s hand in keeping his faction behind him and to further his claim as the true Shiv Sena,” Hasan said.

“Personal Greed”

One of the main charges brought against Thackeray by the rebels was of going against his core “Hindutva” ideology and forming an alliance with two secular parties.

On Friday, Thackeray told reporters that had the BJP agreed to his demands in 2019, there would have been no MVA government in Maharashtra.

“About what happened yesterday, I had also told Amit Shah that there should be a Chief Minister of Shiv Sena for 2.5 years. If they had done it earlier, he there would have been no Maha Vikas Aghadi,” he said.

Shah, currently the federal interior minister, was the chairman of the BJP in 2019.

BJP MP Rakesh Sinha told Al Jazeera that it was because of Shiv Sena’s “own internal contradictions” that the Thackeray government fell.

“People who have an ideological and emotional connection to Hindutva have rebelled in a very healthy way. The new formulation has emerged. The best part of this training is that the BJP strongly advocated the liberation of Maharashtra from the clutches of a political clique,” ​​he said.

Maharashtra political drama
BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis who is now Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra [File: Rajanish Kakade/AP]

But journalist and political analyst Arati R Jerath is not convinced. She told Al Jazeera that the rebel group led by Shinde has been part of the coalition government for almost three years.

“Suddenly they have now discovered their Hindutva roots,” she said. “It seems to be driven by personal greed rather than an ideological thing.”

Jerath said it would be the “honourable thing” for Shinde and the rebels to step down and “go back to the people and get re-elected”.

“Instead they broke up, went to a resort, on a private plane, aided and aided and abetted by the BJP,” she said. “That’s not how a democracy works.”

“Resort politics is not possible unless you are willing to hand out a lot of money to buy MPs and MPs,” Jerath said.

Referring to the BJP, analyst Hasan said that “undoing governments by such means weakens democracy”.

“Democracy requires a strong opposition, but the regime in power is not very keen on having an opposition, let alone a strong opposition. He would prefer an India without opposition.

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