Bracing COVID and BJP, Uddhav completes a year as Maharashtra CM

Kalyani Shankar

Maharashtra chief minister and Shiv Sena supremo (SS) Uddhav Thackeray will be completing one year in office later this month. Thackeray is heading a coalition government, the known as the Vikas Agahdi, which consists of the SS, Congress, and the Nationalist Congress Party.  

Eyebrows were raised when the Congress and the Shiv Sena came together for the sake of power, given that the former and NCP, and the SS and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) contested the 2019 in pre-poll alliances. There is no common factor among the three parties. Despite all odds, the government has survived for a year due to the accommodative attitude of the partners despite some differences. 

 Uddhav is infact the first from the Thackeray family to become chief minister, though he was reluctant to occupy the chair. He has been functioning under the tutelage of the NCP chief Sharad Pawar who has had a long innings previously as the chief minister and also as a union minister. It was Pawar who had put together the coalition Maharashtra Vikas Agadi and is also holding it together.

There have been speculations regarding the stability of the government in Maharashtra. Some expected that either NCP or Congress might pull out of the MVA. But Uddhav apprehends the danger from outside –from the BJP, which is the main opposition party. Though reluctant and inexperienced, Thackeray has matured with his calm and quiet manner of running the government with help from Pawar.   

What is Uddhav’s report card?  The first is that his government has survived so far.  Secondly, he was stunned by an unexpected pandemic, which hit the world. The outbreak of Coronavirus had been Uddhav’s biggest challenge as it has destroyed Maharashtra’s economy. Mumbai is also the financial capital of Indi, so he faced twin challenges apart from apprehending political instability at any time. 

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Maharashtra registered the maximum number of Covid cases and it may take months to stabilize. Mumbai was worst hit because it has Asia’s big slum, Dharavi, and also many workers from Pune and Mumbai had brought back the infection from the Gulf countries where they had migrated for work. 

Added to that was the challenge of dealing with the thousands of migrant laborers who felt practically abandoned. The whole country saw on the television how they walked thousands of miles to go back home. These two challenges would have been difficult even for an experienced administrator.

Uddhav also had to deal with some controversies. One of them was the alleged murder of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, which turned out to be suicide. Without naming anyone, Uddhav also hit back on Bollywood star Kangana Ranaut, who blamed him over a part of her office being razed by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation over alleged violation of building bylaws. 

The third was the NCP minister Nawab Malik announcing a five percent reservation for Muslins, which was part of the common minimum programme of the coalitionThe chief minister quietly maintained that the issue was sub- judice and the partners kept quiet. 

The fourth was keeping his flock together. He apprehended the BJP breaking his party and collapse the government but the Sena stood together with Uddhav. Perhaps to reassure them Uddhav in his Vijayadasami speech last week adopted an aggressive tone. He utilized the occasion to clarify many issues raised by the BJP. 

Uddhav has belied the belief that he has no fire in his belly with his newly found aggressiveness. It would have been an ideal occasion for the chief minister to speak about the positives and his vision for the future but his focus was on counter-attacking the erstwhile partner the BJP. 

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Uddhav has also clarified his party’s Hindutva ideology. He said, “My Hindutva is not merely reopening temples. Those who question our Hindutva were hiding after the Babri Masjid was demolished… My Hindutva comes from Chhatrapati Shivaji, my father, and others; it’s about hitting the enemy, it’s about nationalism”. This was in reply to the Maharashtra Governor who questioned the state government’s decision not to reopen temples, taunting Uddhav whether he “turned secular”. 

Significantly, the Sena chief asserted that the MVA government was stable. “Many (read BJP) were saying they will make the government fall, still people are saying the same. I would like to dare them all, if you dare to try to break this government you will fail, ” he said.

Unusually he also targeted the Centre on the GST

Uddhav also withdrew the permission given to the CBI on the Rajput case. He also taunted the Centre saying, “Rather than working on improving economy, steps are taken to topple governments. We are heading towards anarchy.” 

For a novice, running the coalition was quite difficult as it was under stress all the time, but the BJP is not in a position to form the government unless they break the Congress or the NCP. Significantly, it is Uddhav, who has been accusing the BJP of toppling his government.  As long as he ensures that there is no friction among the partners there is no danger of losing the government. So far, he has nothing much to show except the survival of the coalition. He must focus on development in his second year.

Kalyani Shankar is a senior journalist and analyst based in New Delhi. 

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