The gameplan: Hurdles remain

Just before the swearing in ceremony, at a press briefing, Fadnavis made it clear, in no uncertain terms to the media that Eknath Shinde would be the Chief Minister and that Fadnavis and the BJP will be giving him support from outside.

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By Chanakya

When the dust settled, midway June 30, as Udhav Thackeray announced his resignation over Facebook live at 7 pm, everybody believed that the BJP was back at the helm and that Devendra Fadnavis would be back at the helm of affairs in Maharashtra and turncoat Eknath Shinde will be his deputy. But the BJP had other ideas.

Let us see how this super drama unfolded on June 30 evening.

Just before the swearing in ceremony, at a press briefing, Fadnavis made it clear, in no uncertain terms to the media that Eknath Shinde would be the Chief Minister and that Fadnavis and the BJP will be giving him support from outside. The sudden elevation of Shinde was a surprise element for the media, but having accepted that the BJP;’s outside support was natural. The national press started their stories with the ‘puppet CM’ tag.

As of this point, the media believed that the Shinde may have been given a reward for his rebellious activity, but the BJP leash was strongly tied around his waist. He, probably, would have to take the BJP’s and the Sangh Parivar’s permission to even goes to the toilet for a leak. That did not place Shinde in a very good light and it was not clear that the BJP’s plan to foist a ‘Sainik’ to the top post as an optic would fool the electorate.

It has to be understood that the MLAs who revolted were under constant pressure to go visit their constituencies and explain their position to the electorate. Plus, there was the issue of having ‘betrayed’ the son on Balasaheb Thackeray. The electorate, who also call themselves Sainiks, may not want to take this lying down. What was assumed was that once in power, these transgressions might be forgotten by the electorate.

While the media was using this information to effect, came the other surprise. At the swearing in ceremony, a third chair was introduced and BJP President JP Nadda announced that the top echelons of the party (as well as the Sangh Parivar, which Nadda did not mention) had decided that Devendra Fadnavis would be the Deputy Chief Minister. Even Fadnavis did not know about it. But, as a disciplined member of the RSS, he obeyed and took a demotion.

However, this needed an explanation, which was not forthcoming as of late June 30.

What we can extrapolate are the following:
-Fadnavis needs to be within the power structure, allowing him (and the BJP) to control every move of Shinde.

-In case the Supreme Court disqualifies the 39 MLAs (Uddhav Thackeray’s disqualification claim comes up in court on July 11), Fadnavis would be automatically the CM, without having to go through another set of manipulations. Remember, as per law, the MLAs’ vote counts even if they are disqualified.

-As per law, the rebel faction will not be automatically recognised as a different political party. They will have to merge with some party. The public will be incensed if they merge with the BJP and it is not clear if the rebels can legally call themselves as the Shiv Sena.

-As these problems persist, it was wise to have Fadnavis in the second chair, ready to take over. However, if the 39 MLAs are disqualified by any clause, then the BNJP combine again loses power. In that case there will be another floor test or fresh elections will have to be announced.

The battle may be over, the war rages on.