The unravelling in Maharashtra is unsurprising and disturbing

The still-unfolding scenes of the dramatic political crisis in Maharashtra, stretching from Mumbai to Guwahati through Surat, frame a government in free-fall in an important state, and reverberate. The Uddhav Thackeray government appears to be being held back, on the one hand, by its weakness, inability, or unwillingness, or both by a family-run party to accommodate the growing ambitions within, and on the other, by its partner- aggressive fishing turned foe in troubled waters. The Sena rebels who rallied behind Eknath Shinde have been moved and locked up in hotels in BJP-ruled states, first Gujarat and now Assam, tells his own story. There has been an obvious grudge between the Sina and the BJP since the 2019 General Assembly elections, with the BJP emerging as the largest single party but then the two longtime allies going their separate ways. The dispute led to a fight over the “real” flag bearer of Hindutva over the arrest of the country’s financial capital. At that time, Sina continued to cooperate with Sharad Pawar’s NCP and Congress, and formed a coalition government. Now the rebel group led by Shinde points to this unlikely alliance and the need to return to a single, undiluted Hindutva as the reason for their rebellion, but they protest frequently. After all, unexpected alliances are not uncommon in Indian politics, and power has proven time and time again to be a powerful adhesive. So, in all likelihood, the present collapse in Mumbai has more to do with Sena, having lost Pal Thackeray, finding it difficult to keep cohesion and the BJP, in power at the center and not above arming his control of central agencies against politics. Rivals and opponents, this is to seize the opportunity.

In the coming days, the prospect of a vertical split in Sina, and an end game for the Udhav Thackeray government, will test the institutions of the Speaker and the Governor. The deputy speaker of the House of Representatives – as Maharashtra State Assembly has not had a full-time speaker since 2020 – can be called to assess allegations and counter-allegations and determine the status of the Sena factions under the provisions of the Anti-Dissension Act. The governor can play a crucial role in resolving political instability, even after the Bomai Judgment in 1994, the Supreme Court determined that the place to decide whether the government had lost its majority was the Assembly Hall, not the Raj. Bhavan.

The fate of Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray government will send signals that reverberate beyond the state’s borders. With less than two years left until the general election in 2024, and given the opposition struggles to band together for a fight against the formidable and predatory BJP, a decisive state loss will be the result. Maharashtra, which was one of the most prominent locations in the fight against Covid – and which, incidentally, the Uddhav Thackeray government has kept its remarkably calm head – is now, amid political tug of war, ground zero again.

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