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Political turmoil in Maharashtra

In Maharastra horse-trading had started and startled Democratic Front Government.The 32-month-old Demo- cratic Front (DF) government was plunged into a crisis after nine of the MLAs supporting it announced that they would no longer back the Vilasrao Deshmukh ministry.

The coalition Democratic Front Government tried to shore up its strength by inducting three Independents as Ministers even as more and more MLAs were quitting the Government.The crisis came soon after three MLAs of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), a constituent of the Democratic Front (DF) Government, met Governor P C Alexander along with Shiv Sena leader Narayan Rane and BJP leader Gopinath Munde and said they had resigned from their party and were willing to support a BJP-Shiv Sena government.

Also one MLA each from the Native People's Party, the Republican Party of India-Bahujan Maha Sangh and Janata Dal (S) also withdrew support to the DF Government. With five less, the government was once again reduced to a minority of 140. Munde and Rane pressed the Governor to call for a confidence vote.Deshmukh, who had banked on the support of eight independent MLAs, managed to get only three of them sworn into his ministry. The political turmoil in Maharashtra owes its genesis to NCP president Sharad Pawar manipulating the election to the post of Raigad Zilla Parishad president In February, in such a manner that the Shiv Sena wrested the chair despite the PWP being the single largest party.That event set off a chain reaction that has left the government reeling. As egos took over, family rivalries spilt onto the political turf.

After losing the Parishad president's post, the PWP had forced state minister Sunil Tatkare, incharge of the NCP's Raigad campaign, to resign. The PWP believes that Mr Tatkare had worked for the defeat of its candidate in zila parishad elections in its stronghold at Raigad. But on May 31, Tatkare was again inducted in the ministry, reportedly at Pawar's behest.So, the PWP ministers pulled out of the government and their allies, the CPI(M) and the JD(S), also put the Deshmukh government on notice, precipitating a crisis.

The result was that seven MLAs -- five from the Peasants and Workers Party and two from the CPM -- withdrew support to the DF government.Thus Pawar's power games seem to have set off a crisis within his own party, with three MLAs apparently switching loyalties. NCP MLAs, currently in a high state of panic, hold Pawar responsible for the crisis.

The withdrawals reduced the strength of the government to 140 -- five short of majority in the 288-member House.The BJP-Shiv Sena opposition has 137 members. But the four NCP legislators have not yet pledged allegiance to the combine.The NCP has 61 MLAS and the rebels need the support of 17 more legislators to force a split, which appears to be a near impossible task.

The Shiv Sena-BJP also tried to topple the DF government in October 1999 when they tried their best to cobble together the numbers required to form a government. Since then neither has given up hope of dislodging the uneasy coalition of the Congress and the NCP. Leader of Opposition Narayan Rane and BJP's Gopinath Munde always targeted the independents.The most recent was in February when Rane's colleagues spread the word that nine MLAs were on verge of declaring their support to them. They had already identified the ''weak'' MLAs sometime last year. So it was only a question of working on them. With several of its senior activists allegedly involved in the multi-crore scandals in banks and sugar factories in the cooperative sector, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) worked hard to stave off a threat to the DF government. NCP president Sharad Pawar yielded to pressure from his partymen and put in motion a damage control operation.

Pawar later told Milli Gazette that the Government would not fall. "The situation is serious. However, this Government would not fall," Pawar said. He added that he had asked the Chief Minister to "find out if the PWP could be compensated for whatever has happened in Raigad ".

"I have also spoken to former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda and CPM chief Harkishan Singh Surjeet, both of whom have assured that their parties would not act in any way that could help the Shiv Sena-BJP combine," Pawar said. The DF government immediate worry is to keep the MLAs together as the saffron combine still needs the support of 12 members. Pawar will also have to ensure that NCP dissidents don't switch over.

The fact that there are fissures in the BJP and the Sena over the CM's post in the event of government falling has, given the much-needed breathing time to the Congress.

Both Gopinath Munde and Narayan Rane are in the race for the slot. And though both asked Governor P.C. Alexander to make way for a new government, the BJP leadership's silence in Delhi shows the party is still not ready to stake claim, say observers.The efforts to install a Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra are being led by Communications Minister Pramod Mahajan, who was the chief architect of the earlier coalition government as well.

Meanwhile Shiv Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray claimed that Sena-BJP combine could prove its majority within seven days if called to do so."Expressing confidence that the saffron combine would come to power, he said it was only a question of few days before such an event was transformed into reality.However, if we are given an opportunity, we can prove our majority in seven days time", he added. Deshmukh accused the Opposition of adopting unfair means to keep some of the MLAs at unknown places and using pressure tactics. "An inquiry would be ordered into it," he said. Declaring that the Opposition had no "moral right" to demand his resignation, the chief minister said the issue could be thrashed bare on the floor of the House, which alone was the forum to prove the majority of the government.

Coming down heavily on Sena-BJP opposition, Deshmukh said these are pressure tactics being used to break his government, which was "deplorable in a democracy". "In a democracy, the use of such pressure needed to be criticised because it can prove unhealthy in a country which believes in strong democratic principles," he said.

The opposition claimed that some influential leaders within the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee and the Deshmukh government were plotting to bring down the government.The needle of suspicion pointed towards MPCC chief Govind Rao Adik, a known Deshmukh-baiter.While Deshmukh has been lobbying with Sonia to replace Adik, the MPCC chief has told the Congress president she should choose between reviving the party in the state or continuing with a rag-tag coalition.

Whatever the proximate causes in such situations, fundamentally the problem is that small-timers with their local concerns acquire disproportionate clout when the electoral verdict is not clear-cut. Ironically, the so-called Left bloc did not really worry too much about the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, officially their enemy number one, jumping into the driver's seat if the Deshmukh government fell. Its no wonder that inspite of knowing that the nation is facing the grave threat from external enemy as well as internal danger from fascist forces bent upon disturbing the fragile peace and vitiating the communal temperature, the left, this time has played the dirty politics and exposed itself.It has proved that it is in no way different then other political parties.

M H Lakdawala

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