BJP suffers setback as Maharashtra slips out of its control

Updated November 12, 2019

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures after releasing India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s election manifesto for the April/May general election, in New Delhi, India on April 8, 2019. — Reuters/File
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures after releasing India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s election manifesto for the April/May general election, in New Delhi, India on April 8, 2019. — Reuters/File

MUMBAI: In a setback, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party has decided not to form the government in the western state of Maharashtra — the country’s richest — leaving opposition groups scrambling on Monday to cobble together an alliance.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the single largest party in a state election in Maharashtra last month, and was expected to comfortably retain power with the help of its regional ally, the Shiv Sena.

But in-fighting between the BJP and the Shiv Sena, which has gone on for a fortnight, has culminated in the allies parting ways, dealing the first major political blow to Modi’s ruling party since it retained power with a landslide mandate in a May general election.

On Sunday, the BJP’s state president Chandrakant Patil said his party had decided to not stake claim to form government.

Shiv Sena, which is still officially part of a ruling alliance led by the BJP, is now trying to form a government in Maharashtra with support of opposition parties, a senior party official said on Monday.

“We have required numbers to form the government and we will prove it,” the Shiv Sena official said, declining to be named.

In a tweet on Monday, the Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant, the federal Minister of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, also quit from Modi government.

Whereas the BJP and Shiv Sena share Hindu nationalist sentiments, Shiv Sena’s political base in Maharashtra is the Hindu Marathi community.

Maharashtra — home to India’s financial capital Mumbai — has a 288-member assembly, meaning Shiv Sena, which won 56 seats, will need the support of other parties to be able to come to power.

Leaders from the opposition Congress Party and the Nationalist Congress Party were meeting separately on Monday to decide on the possibility of an alliance with the Shiv Sena.

If no single party or alliance is able to stake claim to forming a government, then the state could be put under the direct supervision of the federal government until fresh elections are called.

The Shiv Sena split with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and decided to try to form a coalition government with the BJP’s key opponents, the Congress party and Nationalist Congress Party.

While an agreement on forming a government has not been finalised, the split between the former allies is seen as a setback for Modi’s party.

Aaditya Thackeray of the Shiv Sena told reporters his party is ready to form the government in Maharashtra and is waiting to receive letters of support from the two other parties.

The Congress party said it will hold further discussions with ally Nationalist Congress Party on the state’s political situation.

The Shiv Sena, the second-largest party in the state’s 288-member House with 56 lawmakers, needs the support of other parties to take power.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2019