Since we are talking of options in Maharashtra, that one option is still unexplored. East is east, West is west and never the twain shall meet, so goes the saying. But never say never is another one. Can the two national parties, who have a lot in common, come together? Ever?
Shiv Sena is playing hard ball in Maharashtra. After pocketing 56 seats with the BJP as an ally on its side, the Sena wants a bigger share of the power pie. The BJP, which won 105 seats, wants the Shiv Sena to remain a junior partner. This tussle has Maharashtra guessing about when the new government will be sworn in, while Haryana, where the BJP fell short of a majority, already has one.
The BJP got bitter rival Jannayak Janata Party's (JJP) Dushyant Chautala to support its leader Manohar Lal Khattar. Chautala is now Khattar's deputy.
In the western Indian state, flexing political muscle, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said that his party had no Dushyant whose father was in jail. Raut was referring to Dushyant's father Ajay Chautala, who was in jail on the morning of the former's swearing-in. Ironically, he was released on a two-week furlough later in the day. Convicted of corruption, Ajay and his father Om Prakash Chautala are serving a 10-year sentence.
A confident Raut said that the Shiv Sena has options. But what really are the party's options?
Well, the party can form a government by getting support from Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Indian National Congress. Pawar is a Maratha icon. Shiv Sena is a party built on Marathi identity.
The Congress has had electoral understanding with the Sena in local elections. So a Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress coalition is not a pie in the sky.
The BJP has an option too, minus the Congress however. The BJP and NCP together are a clear majority. The NCP has 54 MLAs in the 288-member Assembly. The bitterness of the election campaign can evaporate the moment Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes a call to Pawar. Modi has in the past expressed his admiration for Pawar. So the bridges have not been burnt completely despite the bitter campaign trail and corruption cases against Pawar.
But what nobody fathoms is a BJP-Congress alliance. Let's face it. The two national parties allying to defeat their traditional allies, who turn into blackmailing regional bullies the moment they sniff power, is not such a bad idea.
Can a BJP-Congress alliance ever become a reality? (Photo: Reuters)
Let us examine this possibility, however unlikely it may appear.
The deadline for government formation in Maharashtra is fast approaching but the BJP is still finding it tough to stake claim with confidence. The government must be sworn in by November 3. It seems like the Shiv Sena is trying to capitalise on this time constraint.
The BJP won 105 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly election. The Shiv Sena won 56. In comparison to 2014, the tally has been reduced for both parties when the BJP won 122 seats and the Shiv Sena got 63. Still, the Shiv Sena has, through its mouthpiece Saamna and public statements, projected the results of the 2019 state elections as a setback for the BJP and resurgence for itself.
Hypothetically, the BJP and Shiv Sena have the option of forming a government without each other. Realistically, the BJP has a greater chance of forming the government without Shiv Sena joining in.
Shiv Sena's prospects weakened after Pawar rejected the suggestion of aligning with the former to form a government. The NCP won 54 seats and its ally, the Congress, got 44. Both improved their tally from 2014. For a Shiv Sena (minus-BJP) government, both the Congress and NCP must support it, the possibility of which has been ruled out.
In 2014, the NCP had offered unconditional support and has not dismissed the idea this time around. The two parties can easily form a majority government.
But this arrangement will keep the BJP government dependent on the NCP, an essentially regional party in its functioning though officially it enjoys the national party status.
There, however, is a radical idea that can provide a long-term solution to the hiccups of regional politics in Maharashtra and beyond — a BJP-Congress alliance.
A Congress-BJP alliance can help sort out the problem of pesky regional coalitions forever. (Photo: TV grab)
The BJP and the Congress are "national" parties both in their reach and outlook. Their political prospects are not limited to a single state even when either doesn't have governments in too many states.
Both parties just have to reach an agreement that whoever gets a bigger mandate will have the chief minister's chair and then they govern in peace. Recent experience supports such an alliance even if the suggestion might appear outrageous to most analysts who are primed to keep the BJP and the Congress in separate compartments.
"Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable - the art of the next best," said 19th century German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The observation has stood the test of time well in Indian politics. In and after every election, "the possible", "the attainable" and "the next best" become the guiding lights that ultimately lead to government formation. Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana have showcased this once again.
In both states, the BJP emerged as the single-largest party, earning the right to govern, but fell short of majority. The regional and smaller parties tried to flex muscles and have their way.
In Haryana, debutant JJP got the key post of deputy chief minister. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena, with little more than the half the number won by the BJP, is insisting on sharing the chief minister's post on a rotational basis.
A similar template was executed in Karnataka where the Congress played second fiddle to the Janata Dal (Secular) which had finished a distant third in the 2018 state election. The BJP had emerged as the single-largest party short of majority; the Congress had lost power but could still have been a formidable force in the house.
These smaller parties with regional aspirations have often been seen as obstacles in key decision-making processes. The BJP and the Congress, with their broad nationalistic policy outlook, may prove to be better than the other coalition combinations.
In 1991, Manmohan Singh as Union finance minister, had quoted French writer Victor Hugo to say, "No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come."
Has the time for a BJP-Congress alliance idea come?
Refer to Bismarck earlier in the piece.