The country has been treated to the Maharashtra sop opera for the last few weeks with twists and turns ever so often. It has exposed the shallowness of our democracy and the total absence of values, ethics and morals that should be the guiding principles of our political leaders. Sadly though, all the debates by the media and the political leaders have been about being a Chanakya, outmaneuvering, blame game, strategy, power, questioning each other’s credibility etc. However none talked about the collapse of the moral and ethical values. An attempt is herein made through this write up, to view these events from the moral prism.

DEMOCRACY AND ITS MORAL BEARINGS:

Politics is the art of the possible and is largely guided by the ‘first past the goal post’ principle. After independence, most of the opposition parties sprung out of congress for personal ambitions or disgruntlement rather than for any ideological differences. The only two ideological parties were the right wing RSS (though claims to be a social, nonpolitical organization) and the left parties.

India, being a highly skewed country has the unique distinction of its 1% population owning over 77% of the national wealth (Year 2017). Furthermore, the bottom 60% population owns barely 4.8% of national wealth. Thus it is not only pragmatic but also impossible for any political party to survive without having a prudent dual policy for the country. We have seen extreme left parties adopting Capitalistic programs and extreme right parties having to adopt welfare leftist policies. All this diffuses the ideological differences for the people to differentiate and comprehend. Given this, it is essential for the people to use the moral compass to decide on issues and vote for the right people.

In a democracy, leaders must be the icons for the country as they set the tone and ecosystem for the nation. Therefore, every act of theirs has to be scrutinized from a moral perspective. Ideally, the party that has the largest votes (not vote share) amongst the contestants is declared the winner.

Historically, no party has ever got more than 50% votes. Till 1984, Congress in eight elections recorded 40% national vote share. From 1996, the main winning party got less than 30% till 2009. It took 23 years for BJP to cross 30% vote share. Congress saw a 48% vote in 1984. Therefore, it would be false to conclude that anyone who has the highest votes is the voice of all the people and have been mandated to rule.

On the contrary, it is the party that can form an alliance having the highest number of votes that has the moral authority to form the government. The supreme court wisely set a protocol to recognize that first priority is given to pre-poll alliance for government formation.

Pre-poll alliance of parties cannot be more than an understanding that they will work jointly. Such an arrangement happens solely to defeat their opponents by transferring their traditional vote share to their partners. It does not hypothecate the independence of any party.

Equally, any alliance of parties cannot be termed unethical as their combined votes represent the true majority mandate of the people. So, the Maharashtra alliance is as ethical as the alliances of BJP in over five states by depriving Congress despite they being the largest party.

In light of the above, lets examine the Maharashtra sop opera:

ALLIANCE FORMATION:

BJP and Shiv Sena won the popular mandate to stake claims to form the government. Congress and NCP declared their mandate to sit in the opposition. In the following 10 days after the result, fissures developed between BJP and Shiv Sena culminating in BJP opting out for lack of numbers even though they were given three days. Shiv Sena and NCP also opted out as they were only granted one day each, despite request for two three days. Presidents rule was established on the ground that State needed Governance and could not wait.

BJP played the victim card and accused Shiv Sena of back stabbing and claimed that Shiv Sena won their seats because of BJP clout and hence they have been immoral. Shiv Sena on the other hand claimed BJP was back tracking from their pre-poll promises made. BJP’s counter has been, at best, mild (even after the split) which is very uncharacteristic of BJP.

This gives credence to speculation that there must be deeper issues rather than some promises only. Difficult to analyse the morality aspect till all the facts come into public space. However, the argument forwarded by Shiv Sena that they should get Chief Ministership ‘because Udhav Thakre promised his father’ should be totally unacceptable as it bears no moral basis, much less values.

NCP was brokering a deal to forge an alliance between Shiv Sena and Congress. BJP has questioned the morality of Congress in going into an alliance with a party overlooking the ideological divide. Congress hit back pointing out all the BJP unholy alliances eg. tie up with the PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti etc. Further, congress justifies its need to keep BJP away even if it means working with Shiv Sena.

While BJP has a strong Hindutva agenda with an anti Muslim bias, Shiv Sena’s communal agenda have primarily been against Pakistan. In the alliance dharma, there is need for flexibility. This raises the question whether in democracy, it is ethical to tie-up with opposing ideologies. By its very nature, politics is characterized by the flexibility to team up on a tactical or strategic basis. Therefore, neither of these are moral questions but only strategic politics.

Formation of the opposition alliance was tough mainly due to distrust and ideological issues. Congress leadership was firm on not discussing with Shiv Sena till they made a clean break from NDA. Accordingly, discussions started only after Shiv Sena formally walked out of the NDA alliance.

Initially, Congress wanted to support the NCP – Shiv Sena government from outside because of ideological differences. Sharad Pawar, being a shrewd politician, insisted that to form a lasting alliance, it was essential for all parties to be a part of the government.

It is thus obvious that there were no efforts to wean away Shiv Sena from the BJP fold. It also justifies time taken to form an alliance rather than quickly cobble up a ‘Common Minimum Program’ and not address all the contentious issues.

Therefore, BJP’s argument that opposition parties could not form the government for over a month is misleading to say the least.

GOVERNMENT FORMATION:

BJP was given three days to form the government after about 10 days after election results. When BJP opted out, Shiv Sena and NCP were invited to form a government respectively but they were given only two days, with the Governor refusing to give more time. This, even though there was sufficient media coverage talking about the alliance between all the three parties going ahead.

Why the difference in treatment by the governor? What was the tearing hurry to impose President’s rule? The rationale given was the inability for Maharashtra to be without governance. Though this seemed insincere, it became a travesty when the same argument was used to revoke the President’s rule in the midnight coup to form the Fadnavis Government. This was the lowest display of ethics and morality.

Governor Maharashtra and President
Governor Bhagat Singh Khoshyari showed undue haste in recommending Presidents Rule in Maharashtra

Once the President’s rule was imposed, it gave the parties up to 6 months to form a government. The alliance then started earnest discussion beyond Common Minimum Program and started addressing contentious issues like article 370, Bharat Ratna for Gowalkar; Muslim Reservations etc. These are complex and time consuming to find common ground.

By November 22, 2019 the alliance confirmed that they would be approaching the Governor, the next day, for forming the government. Ajit Pawar was in the NCP meeting till 9 pm or so. Between 10 pm to 8 am in the morning, BJP in alliance with Ajit Pawar formed the government and Chief minister and Deputy Chief Minister were sworn in by 8 am on Nov 23, 2019 without any intimation to anyone including the press.

The manner and speed with which the Government was sworn in was most unethical and violated all norms. The only logical explanation could be to preempt the SS + NCP +INC from staking claim the next morning with a hope that once they are in power, it would be easier for them to wean away people to their fold. This exposes the design of BJP to grab power at any cost.

For a party that claimed high moral ground, this was a naked violation of their utterances. Further, BJP top leaders on TV repeatedly claimed they were confident of numbers even if Ajit Pawar could not deliver on the numbers. “We do our home work” was an assertion that signaled their intention to poach people from other parties. All this fails the morality test.

NCP, Shiv Sena and Congress huddled their MLAs and herded them into luxury hotels with a strict vigil ostensibly to prevent poaching by BJP. But in reality this shows the lack of trust and moral fabric of its political MLAs and their vulnerability to being purchased. This is most worrisome for people to realize that their political leaders are pathetically unreliable.

There is an urgent need for new election laws that force any defector to resign from his/her position and seek re-elections irrespective of the cause. Horse trading should have no place in the body politic of the country. Political leaders need to have the courage of conviction to state their positions and face the consequences if required..

GOVERNOR’S ROLE:

From a moral compass, the role of the Governor has been most worrisome. The governor acted with malaise is crystal clear in first declaring the President’s rule and not providing a reasonable time for government formation and then by the midnight coup in revoking the same.

The Governor, should have taken into account the fact that the alliance was contemplating to stake claims the next morning and had even declared their consensus Chief Minister position in Udhav Thackeray. There was continuous news coverage on most of the channels. At the least, he should have doubted the claims being made because the whole country by then had witnessed the NCP support to the alliance.

The Governor should have addressed the question of how the BJP, that had promised to put Ajit Pawar behind bars, suddenly whipped up this cosy partnership with him. He should have, at a minimum, talked to Sharad Pawar, the key force behind the alliance, to confirm his support.

The only conclusion that can be thus drawn is that either the Governor was naïve and unworthy of the position he occupied or he willfully acted in a biased manner.

Even more damning is the speed with which the process was executed. What was the hurry? The State was already in the President’s rule and there was no threat of any kind to rush thru this half baked proposal.

Presidents Rule Revoked 23 Nov 2019 by PM Modi
PM Narendra Modi utilising emergency powers vested unto him under Rule 12, revoked President’s Rule in Maharashtra at 04:57 in the morning of 23 Nov 2019

In the wee hours of the morning, the Governor recommended the revocation of the President’s rule. The Prime Minister invoked the Rule 12 emergency provision (which is normally used for serious national issues) and the President gave his accent by 6 am to hold a private secret swearing in ceremony.

Thus, the Governor, the Prime Minister and the President, to a lesser extent, acted deliberately with malefic intentions violating the constitution of India. This is a very serious lapse for which the country should be outraged and demand accountability.

Instead of expressing remorse at the misadventure, BJP has embarked on a combative posture to claim nothing wrong was done and the process was followed. True the process was followed. But should there be no accountability to explain the emergency situations that warranted such hasty unconstitutional step? Will hiding behind technicalities help the ethical and moral standing of such an issue?

The courts resolved the issue but skirted the important strictures it should have passed on the executive for the misadventure. By its silence, it is only damaging the moral fabric of the nation.

Gandhiji today is more relevant than ever before. The people of India must shoulder the larger blame for repeatedly electing such dubious leaders and rejecting value based candidates. It is time people with high moral values rise up and fight to change the political scenario. Else, the country will pay a heavy price.

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