Maharashtra Exposes the Farce of Modi’s Anti-Corruption Diatribes
by Dipankar Bhattacharya

Exactly a year after engineering defections in the Shiv Sena, the Modi-Shah regime has now targeted the Nationalist Congress Party. Ajit Pawar has once again been sworn in as Deputy Chief Minister in Maharashtra. What made this Sunday coup especially sensational was that it happened within seventy-two hours of PM Modi’s ‘guarantee’ speech in Madhya Pradesh where he had melodramatically announced that if the opposition guaranteed corruption, Modi stood for guarantee of action against the corrupt. In that speech he had specifically accused the NCP of scams worth at least rupees 70,000 crore. Of the nine ministers now sworn in to the Maharashtra cabinet from the Ajit Pawar camp at least three have been on the ED radar for years together. Maharashtra has thus once again exposed the utterly farcical nature of Modi’s anti-corruption rhetoric.

The meaning of the Modi ‘guarantee’ of action against the corrupt has now become crystal clear for the public – it is a guarantee that politicians will face persecution and vendetta if they remained in the opposition and will enjoy impunity and power if they joined the BJP camp. When Modi says that no corrupt politician would be spared, it actually means that his government would try and coerce all of them to join the BJP which is the ultimate washing machine for people accused of all kinds of crimes from financial irregularities to sexual harassment and rape to hate crimes of every kind. From Himanta Biswa Sharma in Assam and Subhendu Adhikari in West Bengal to now Ajit Pawar and Chhagan Bhujbal in Maharashtra, the list of the rehabilitated scam accused in the BJP camp is getting lengthier by the day.

Behind Modi’s verbal aggression describing the opposition as a gang of corrupt dynasts, there is clearly a palpable fear that the growing electoral understanding among various opposition parties would galvanise the people and channelize their anger towards the Modi regime into a decisive defeat of the BJP in the forthcoming elections. Even without any opposition unity, the Congress has managed to defeat the BJP quite emphatically in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka. An upbeat Congress now appears to be clearly on a comeback trail in the next round of Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Telangana while retaining power in Chhattisgarh and possibly also in Rajasthan. As India’s second biggest electoral state supplying as many as 48 MPs, the importance of Maharashtra to the BJP can therefore hardly be overemphasised.

The BJP is very much aware of the underlying instability of the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government (aptly described as the ED government) with the sword of disqualification hanging over the heads of Eknath Shinde and his colleagues as the Supreme Court constitution bench revisits the Maharashtra crisis in the coming days. In the immediate context, the inclusion of the defecting NCP legislators is expected to compensate for any numerical deficit caused by the possible disqualification of Shinde and his colleagues. But it is now clear that Ajit Pawar still does not have the requisite numbers and the possibility of some defecting members returning to the Sharad Pawar camp is only growing with Sharad Pawar going back to the people to rebuild the party. Meanwhile, the NCP has also appealed for disqualification of Ajit Pawar and the other MLAs who have joined the Shinde cabinet and expelled the rebel MPs. The battle has thus only begun and the situation remains unsettled even in the short run.

Across India, the Modi government is identified with the ‘Gujarat model’. Even though the impression of domination of Gujarat is sought to be mitigated by including Yogi Adityanath in the Modi-Shah bracket and getting Narendra Modi to represent Varanasi in the Lok Sabha, the unprecedented concentration of power and wealth in the hands of four Gujaratis is not lost on anyone. The issue of federalism thus resonates strongly today not just in Kashmir which has been stripped of its constitutional rights or in Delhi where the elected state government is denied its constitutional powers through an invasive executive ordinance or in states marked by a distinct linguistic and cultural identity like Tamil Nadu and other southern states, but right in Maharashtra, the heartland of Indian capitalism. Coupled with the increasing transfer or diversion of projects, offices and institutional resources from Maharashtra to Gujarat, the political attacks on the Shiv Sena and NCP, two parties with strong Maharashtra-centric regional identities can only make Maharashtra feel more uneasy under the domination of the Gujarat model and make restoration of the federal balance a more pressing concern in Maharashtra politics.

The rise of the federal agenda against the backdrop of the widening fault-line between Gujarat and Maharashtra was the underlying factor behind the eventual rupture between the Shiv Sena and the BJP, two parties that shared the closest ideological intimacy during the rise of Hindutva in the last three decades. If in spite of the underlying Hindutva bond, the alliance between the Shiv Sena and the BJP could not survive the growing domination of the Gujarat model, the NCP has never really been ideologically aligned with the BJP except perhaps on economic and foreign policy matters. The threat of persecution and the allurements of power have of course pushed the majority of Shiv Sena and now NCP legislators too to the BJP fold, but the by-election and APMC election results and the ground level support for Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and Sharad Pawar’s NCP clearly indicate the isolation of the Shiv Sena and NCP MLAs who have surrendered to the BJP from their respective mass bases.

The Modi government now desperately relies on communal polarisation, political coercion and brutal suppression of dissent to hold on to power in the face of its growing unpopularity. The disconnect between the concerns of the people on the ground and the power-drunk arrogance of the regime is now all too glaring from Maharashtra to Manipur. Let the opposition not be deterred by the unscrupulous power games of the regime and draw new strength and energy by connecting with the people. Modi’s Maharashtra gamble has every potential to boomerang and hasten his downfall.

Maharashtra Exposes the Farce of  Modi