Get down to business

A new government minus the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be in place in Maharashtra on December 1 after days of high drama that no democracy can be proud of. If the coming together of three parties with disparate and sometimes conflicting ideologies was disrespectful of the mandate, the skulduggery by the BJP and Ajit Pawar at the dead of night was an outright mockery of democratic norms and procedure. Now that the worst part of the drama is hopefully over, the bigger question is: Will the new government run? Or just sputter, enervated by its own contradictions, exhausted by its little internal wars? 

In the past, the Shiv Sena made no secret of the fact that it saw itself as an “opposition” party, whether in power or out of it. It was the lone political party in the state that had opposed land acquisition for the Jaitapur nuclear reactor on the Konkan coast, citing danger to fisheries. This is a project the Congress won after huge political sacrifice in 2008 and the BJP continued in the teeth of determined opposition by its alliance partner. France, deeply invested in the project, is now seeking sovereign guarantees for it and is so nervous it may turn tail and run instead of opting to throw good money after bad. The Congress had announced, even before the project took off, that it was opposed to the high-speed rail link between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, principally because the link went through tribal forest areas and the locals would get nothing out of it. Japan, which is building the railroad, is holding its breath, waiting to see what will happen, now that the Congress is part of the state government. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is caught between the devil and the deep sea. It is a peaceable ally, not given to quarrelling. But it is just two MLAs short of the Shiv Sena, and the chief minister will be the Sena’s.

What would be really tedious is if the new Maharashtra government essays the same moves that parties have made when they have come into government from the opposition. In Andhra Pradesh, Jaganmohan Reddy has spent the first, potentially most productive six months in power, destroying almost everything his predecessor put up. The same goes for Rajasthan, where a Congress government reversed many of the previous regime’s decisions including one on introducing a basic minimum educational qualification to contest elections. The new government would be well advised to learn from Tamil Nadu, which used to be one of India’s most progressive states. The reason? There was always constancy and predictability in policy. M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa were bitterly opposed to each other politically. But if they judged a policy addressed a delivery or administrative gap, they continued it and, frequently, even improved it, like the mid-day meal scheme. The Maharashtra voters, who have been suffering the most in the past few days, would expect the government to get down to business: The $5-billion Foxconn investment, which was supposed to come up near Talegaon, along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway in 2015; the reduction in value-added tax in Maharashtra on petrol and diesel; and a noticeable reduction in transaction costs. The afterglow of being the underdog will not last long for the new government, as the BJP, despite being badly wounded in the state, will be looking out to pounce on corners cut and promises half kept.



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