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Analysts said Modi's reliance on coalition partners means he faces the prospect of a far tougher-than-expected third term. Image Credit: ANI

Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the paterfamilias of the Sangh Parivar, Maharashtra assembly elections, and the N square, the combined forces of the two leaders Chandrababu Naidu, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, and Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief Minister, hold the keys to the third term of Narendra Modi’s Prime Ministership.

This triangle of delicately balanced political forces will be the key to how Modi’s political legacy is judged in historical terms. Bhagwat is nearly contemporaneous to Modi in the RSS and has always had an extremely uneasy relationship with him. Modi has preferred to keep him and, by extension, the RSS off balance while following an orthodox Sangh agenda.

Modi’s spectacular electoral success until coming up against the lack of a simple majority in 2024 kept all naysayers, even within the Parivar, mum. It is no secret that the RSS views a personality cult as antithetical to its ideology of the organisation over the individual.

Now is the hour of reckoning and, as far as the RSS is concerned, a hard reset. Bhagwat has lost no time in calling out “ahankar” (arrogance). Bhagwat said, “A true sevak (one who serves the people) does not have ahankar and works without hurting others.” Bhagwat did not mince his words and said that the decorum was not kept in the poll campaign, referring to the bitter tone set by BJP leaders.

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Bhagwat also took a pointed jibe and said the opposition was not a “virodhi” (enemy) but an opponent. Bhagwat strongly flagged the continuing violence in Manipur, which has lasted for over a year, and asked who would take responsibility and stop it.

Significantly, earlier on Amit Shah’s call of “Congress Mukt Bharat” (India sans the Congress), Bhagwat had said such calls were not becoming in a democracy. Shah had then given up his public war cry. Sangh faithful among Modi ministers Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh, and Shivraj Singh Chauhan will now be watching Nagpur carefully for cues. Expect a more aggressive RSS in this Modi term.

The Maharashtra elections, which are due later this year, will be a bellwether of the third term of the Modi government. The “jod tod ki rajneeti” (smash and grab politics), using unlimited money power and the misuse of the central investigative agencies, is now under scrutiny of the voter. Partial judgement, which saw the BJP reduced to a pathetic position, has come.

The BJP broke two regional parties: the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party, and partnered with Eknath Shinde and his Sena faction and Ajit Pawar and his NCP rump to form the Maharashtra government.

The results have nearly dealt a death blow to the BJP and its allies. The first signs of a death spiral came when Devendra Fadnavis, downsized from BJP’s CM to Shinde’s deputy, publicly said he would like to quit his office and work for the party after taking responsibility for the disastrous performance of the BJP.

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Writing on the wall

Then Ajit Pawar, the second wheel, stopped attending cabinet meetings and publicly refused to take a minister of state position in the Modi government. Reading the writing on the wall, a steady trickle of legislators and workers are headed back to Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar.

It’s not a question of if but when the Shinde-led BJP government will collapse. Meanwhile, the central BJP is trying to woo Thackeray back into its fold. All that the BJP with its smash and grab has achieved in Maharashtra is to ensure that the Pawar NCP will soon merge into the parent Congress party.

The trickiest part of the new management will be keeping the allies who ensure his government survives in good humour. Modi has kept all the key ministries with the BJP, which gives the allies less incentive to keep supporting the government. You can’t depend on daily oxygen for your allies and be stingy with them, especially when they are political experts at somersaulting to the other side in seconds, like Kumar and Naidu.

Simply put, currently, there is no glue that holds BJP and his allies together. Kumar is currently in bad health and is very clear that he wants his son Nishant Kumar in politics. Once that is a done deal, Kumar will take a good hard clinical look at his relationship with Modi. Both Naidu and Kumar are clear they don’t want to go the Naveen Patnaik way and lose their states to the BJP.

These men and the Maharashtra outcome will decide the course of Modi 3.0.