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Maharashtra version of Operation Lotus: 'part of move to install BJP in all States'

By Harshavardhan Purandare* 

Maharashtra recently witnessed a hostile takeover of power by Delhi, which was cleverly branded in sections of media as rebellion by majority Shiv Sena MLAs against their own chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. Delhi uprooted Uddhav’s Maha Vikas Aghadi government, formed in 2019 as an alliance with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar, replacing it with the breakaway group of the Shiv Sena in alliance with the State unit of BJP.
The main reason cited by the so-called ‘rebel’ Shiv Sena MLAs was that Uddhav had fallen out from the path of his iconic father Balasaheb Thackeray. He had abandoned the Hindutva ideology and drifted apart to ‘corrupt anti-development libtards’. Ideological argument was used to justify the high drama of the multi-billion rebellion of chartered flights, five star hotels and political-financial deals with MLAs that ran away with BJP’s help and split the Shiv Sena vertically.
No doubt, Uddhav was opportunistic in his 2019 ascendency to chief ministerial berth. He contested elections in partnership with BJP. BJP got more MLAs elected than the Shiv Sena, but the opposition had numbers enough to stop BJP and make Uddhav chief minister. Uddhav switched sides and became CM.
But beneath this act of opportunism, there was a truth -- that the Shiv Sena’s two decades alliance with BJP was bringing slow death to the party in recent years. Maharashtra BJP implemented the strategy of merger and acquisition of leaders from the Congress and NCP after 2014 .The number of BJP MLAs increased to almost double of that of the Shiv Sena.
It was Uddhav’s political compulsion to split from BJP at the right time, or else he would have become insignificant before BJP. He had to choose between devil and the deep sea and give his party a chance to grow. The risk of occupying the CM’s chair and chart a new path of shaping Sena into a truly regional party instead of second rank Hindutva party was the only way of survival.
For retaining some votes from the past, Uddhav maintained the verbal position that he was still a “Hindutvavadi'' like his father, but there was no real future left for him in the Hindutva space after Narendra Modi’s rise and BJP’s transformation into dominant Hindutva party in the State .
Beyond ‘Delhi not liking Uddhav’s rebellion’ post-2019 elections, the Shiv Sena as the competitive brand of local Hindutva was the target of the Sangh Parivar ideologues in Nagpur, too. They do not want too many shades of saffron flags flying high across India.
Indeed, if Corona had not given Uddhav two years to show his governing abilities, one can say that he would not have lasted two-and-a-half years in the hostile political environment that the right-wing has created. Hindutva WhatsApp campaigns were constantly at work to defame Uddhav individually and the Thackeray family in general.
Rumours were spread that he was physically unfit, that he did not step out of his residence and his wife ran the government. All his personal opponents in the state -- Narayan Rane, Raj Thackeray and Kirit Somaiyya were fuelled by Delhi to occupy TV screens all the time. The Governor in Mumbai Raj Bhavan did everything to trouble him. The Enforcement Directorate launched corruption cases against many Sena leaders, only to force them to join BJP.
Meanwhile, breakaway leader Eknath Shinde and other Shiv Sena MLAs were constantly brainwashed into believing that their alliance with the Congress-NCP was ‘unnatural '. They were made to believe that only Hindutva and BJP’s proximity would help them win their next elections and retain their seats.
Shinde influenced other Shiv Sena MLAs. He described BJP as 'mahashakti' to them -- supreme power. Everybody in the State thought Uddhav’s Maha Vikas Aghadi government would fall with a division in the Congress, like in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, but here the Shiv Sena was targeted for a split instead. The Sangh Parivar’s number one enemy was Uddhav, and hence hostility was directed at him and his version of the Shiv Sena from the day one of his chief ministerial term.
The message to Uddhav was somewhat direct, surrender or perish. He did not surrender. Delhi planned a lot more than just throwing him out of the chief ministerial chair. It planned the Maharashtra version of “Operation Lotus” -- ruthless politics to get BJP in state power in all the states by hook or crook. 
It is not unusual for the centre to plot the fall of the State government, but what is unique in this case is the attempt to grab the entire party. It's an attempt to convert the Shiv Sena into Modi Sena.
However, the Constitution and the law stood in Delhi’s way after they helped Sena MLAs abscond successfully. In the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha, a techno-legal battle erupted, and the anti-defection law became the centre of debate. BJP appeared determined to use money, media, government institutions under its control and do anything to take over the power.
First, the media was made to report the rebellion in a sensational manner. From day one, channels falsely projected that Shinde had numbers enough to have support of two-thirds of MLAs that are needed by law to break away.
The fact is, his numbers were less than that to begin with; his letter to the deputy speaker showed that he was falling short in the numbers game. But media coverage and projection that rebellion is successful encouraged other MLAs in Mumbai to join Shinde’s group. Sitting in Gawahati, shopping for MLAs and using misleading media propaganda did the job.
Second, the office of the Governor shut the state government off. It did not let the election of the vacant house speaker's post happen for a year. That created confusion, though there was a deputy speaker to handle the affair.
Third, the MLAs were kept in one block in BJP-ruled States, first in Gujarat and then in far off Assam. Government machinery and BJP units in those States were ‘protecting’ them so that there was no or little access to them.
The Governor was himself not accessible due to Corona infection and the news was spread that MLAs might go to Goa and parade before the new in-charge Governor there. Two MLAs who ran back to Maharashtra somehow told media the stories of how they were almost kidnapped. Many MLAs did not even know why they were called to Surat by Sinde.
Fourth, the acting deputy speaker of the Vidhan Sabha was given ad hoc no-trust notice through random unofficial email just to create doubt around his position.
Fifth, when the deputy speaker gave anti-defection notices to cancel the house membership of runaway MLAs, the Supreme Court gave two weeks' time for MLAs to file their say. The Court order meant that MLAs had got a long rope.
Sixth, the next day the Governor gave orders for short notice trust vote after request by the State BJP unit, in spite of the matter still being pending in the Court. His letter to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray did not even mention the Supreme Court case and the Cabinet was not consulted by the Governor.
Seventh, when the Shiv Sena again went to the Supreme Court to stop the floor examination, the Court said that they could not stop this trust vote. The order was issued a few hours before the trust vote.
CM Uddhav Thackeray was left with no option but to resign.
Eighth, in a sudden twist to the tale, the projected CM of BJP state unit, Devendra Fadnavis, was snubbed by Delhi, and Shinde, the runaway MLAs’ leader, was made CM . Fadnavis tried to save his image by saying that he would be ‘guiding’ the Shinde government from outside. 
There is already a plan to convert Mumbai into Union territory and split the State into two after Modi wins in 2024 elections
But Delhi forced him to accept the post of deputy CM. To serve as deputy CM after being CM once was an insult to Fadanvis. In effect, Delhi denied him the stature of a tall State leader he was trying to project himself as.
Ninth, the Governor suddenly approved the pending election of the new House Speaker before the trust vote, the timing conveniently suitable for BJP.
Conventionally, the speaker of the house is a senior member from the ruling party. This time a young lawyer who defected from the Sena to NCP to BJP and first time MLA was chosen. The newly-appointed speaker gave all the rulings in favour of the Shinde faction of Sena.
Shinde with Fadnavis
The legislature unit of a political party technically has a separate existence than a party, and its existence is legal, but that never means that they are the real party. This little technical glitch was explored by BJP to recognize runaway MLAs as Shiv Sena during the trust vote. So they did not need to merge with another party as the anti-defection law requires.
Tenth, sentiments of Shiv Sena workers in Mumbai grew hyper against "rebel" MLAs after watching 24x7 coverage. MLAs returning to Mumbai were branded gaddar. The Governor referred to the possibility of riots to the centre, and also possibility of attacks on breakaway MLAs. The centre sent 2,000 CRPF jawans to Mumbai. The use of an armed unit during the process of split in a political party was never heard before.
And eleventh, the oath ceremony, trust vote and the campaign of MLAs returning home was unleashed in the media to show as if all that was happening according to the law and the Constitution -- whereas the Constitutional legality and political morality was sacrificed in each action by those sitting in power.
Constitutional experts in Maharashtra were crying loud that the Supreme Court verdict was unusual and unexpected. Lawyers argued that this precedent would go a long way in demolishing the anti-defection law. Had the Supreme Court allowed disqualification of MLAs first and asked them to challenge it later, the political outcome could have been different. Postponing the defection issue for two weeks, the Court referred the case to the Constitutional bench.
Given the delays in other Constitutional matters, one cannot be sure when the verdict on the disqualification of MLAs will be given. The government founded on illegal actions may keep running without any legitimacy, which it owes to the people of the State. People have been taken for granted.
The rhetoric continued that numbers are everything in democratic decision making, but the very number was built by unfair politics and illegal processes. There will be no surprise if the Election Commission tomorrow allots Shiv Sena’s brand symbol of tiger and election symbol of Bow and Arrow to the dummy Shiv Sena created by Delhi.
All this was justified in the name of giving Hindutva ideology its rightful power. It was yet another experiment of converting the State into Hindu (Maha)Rashtra. It is alleged that the bill to make all this split happen was Rs 3,000 crore.
Today’s Maharashtra is an idea born out of Shivaji’s adventurous empire built through wars and struggles against Delhi powers in the 17th century. He united common Maharashtrian people, inspired them to create an empire. He was a people’s king.
The British developed Mumbai into a financial capital. After they left, it was the peoples' movement of the 1960s that sacrificed 106 lives to have the financial capital of India, Mumbai, included in the State of Maharashtra against Jawaharlal Nehru’s wishes. Marathi workers in Mumbai’s industrial hubs were pillars of the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement.
But this time, the State might surrender itself to Delhi. There is already a plan to convert Mumbai into Union territory and split the State into two after Modi wins the 2024 elections. The idea of Maharashtra is likely to die if that happens.
---
*Activist based in Mumbai, associated with Socialist Party (India)

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