Can Uddhav Thackeray Survive Sena-NCP-Congress Berth Pangs to Deliver Governance?
The much-delayed expansion of Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra cabinet has seen the eruption of large-scale dissent from those left out across all three parties, which may work out to BJP’s advantage.
File photo of Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray.
Too many mouths to feed, but very little food to go around.
This may sound like a rather harsh analogy, but sums up the state of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress coalition government in Maharashtra.
The much-delayed expansion of the Maharashtra cabinet, which took place over a month after Uddhav took charge as the chief minister, has seen the eruption of large-scale dissent from those left out.
The squabbling over lucrative portfolios has seen the government hold back the distribution of departments for almost a week. This was despite Uddhav’s claim on December 30 (the day 36 ministers, including his son Aaditya, were sworn in) that this would be done in a day or two.
That it will be a tough act to pull off was evident soon after the expansion took place, where revolts broke out across all three parties. The otherwise monolithic Shiv Sena, where the writ of the party leadership continues to be enforced with an iron fist, is also not exempt from this disgruntlement and infighting.
Shiv Sena legislator Bhaskar Jadhav, a veteran Shiv Sainik, who quit the party in 2004, after being denied a nomination by Uddhav’s confidantes and later joined the NCP, voiced his anger at being ignored. Jadhav had returned to the party fold just before the assembly elections and was said to be in the reckoning for a cabinet berth.
In the Sena, the most significant development has been the exclusion of Sunil Raut, MLA and the younger brother of Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut.
Sanjay Raut, the executive editor of the Sena mouthpiece Saamna, was seen as the “man of the match” by successfully pushing for a break with the party’s ties with the BJP, and subsequent post-poll alliance with the Congress and NCP.
Senior Shiv Sena leaders like Ramdas Kadam, environment minister in the previous Devendra Fadnavis-led regime, and Tanaji Sawant, an import from the NCP who controls a string of educational institutions and rose to being a cabinet minister in the previous government, have also been dropped.
Shiv Sena legislators are also upset at three Independents -- Bacchu (Omprakash) Kadu, Shankarrao Gadakh and Rajendra Patil Yadravkar -- and a recent entrant to the Sena, Abdul Sattar, being taken into the cabinet from the party’s quota, overlooking claims of loyalists.
Revolts by Shiv Sena legislators Anil Babar and Sattar ensured that the party lost out on crucial posts in elections to the Sangli and Aurangabad Zilla Parishads (district councils), respectively.
Miffed at being left out, NCP leader and former minister Prakash Solanke, who is a legislator from Beed district, threatened to quit, but was placated by the leadership.
Supporters of Congress legislator from Bhor in Pune, Sangram Thopte, attacked and vandalised the Congress Bhavan in Pune, which was once the epicentre of the party’s activities during the freedom struggle. Elsewhere, supporters of Congress legislators like PN Patil (Kolhapur) have threatened to quit the party en mass to protest his exclusion.
Muslim leaders from the Congress want another minister from the community to be part of the ministry considering the community’s support to the party. Now, Aslam Shaikh, a Congress MLA from Malad in Mumbai, has been drafted into the cabinet as the textiles minister.
Within the ministry, the distribution of portfolios has been a bone of contention. While the Shiv Sena was insisting on holding charge of the powerful home department, which comes with its control over the police machinery, and sweeping powers of surveillance, the NCP has wrested it for its surprise pick, Anil Deshmukh, a legislator from Nagpur district.
BJP leaders claim that this was the opportunity they have been waiting for.
The government, which is made up of disparate allies united not by ideology but the expedient need to gain power and keep the BJP away from it, will totter and fall under the weight of these differences, they state. The three parties, especially the Shiv Sena and the NCP, have been at loggerheads in local politics, and a truck between them at the state level comes with its own share of contradictions.
BJP sources claim disgruntled elements from the three parties can be lured into its fold like in the case of ‘Operation Kamala’ in Karnataka that saw the BS Yediyurappa government come to power.
However, a Shiv Sena minister countered this, claiming that if the government continued successfully for six months and beyond, there was a chance that BJP leaders, many of whom have a background in the Congress and NCP, may choose to dump their party for power. This experiment of three parties with ideological variance successfully joining hands to form and run a government may also lead to similar experiments in other states.
The Shiv Sena is being compelled to navigate a minefield over its position on contentious issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens, the demand for a Bharat Ratna for VD Savarkar and senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s disparaging comments against this Hindutva icon. The ideological disparities between the Shiv Sena and its two alliance partners on such issues will come to the fore as the BJP will ensure it can raise such contentious issues and exploit them to the hilt to make the Sena lose face among its core voters.
However, a Congress minister claimed that these rumblings would be calmed soon. He attributed this eruption of anger among leaders from the three parties as a tactical attempt to flex muscles and gain sinecures to state-run corporations, which have the rank of a cabinet minister or minister of state.
This Congress leader claimed that the defeat of Udayanraje Bhosale, the scion of the royal family of Satara, and the descendant of warrior-king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, in the Lok Sabha bypolls, would serve as a deterrent for any potential rebels and deserters.
Udayanraje, a three-term NCP MP from Satara, quit soon after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to join the BJP. NCP chief Sharad Pawar put up his college friend, former bureaucrat and ex-governor of Sikkim, Srinivas Patil Marulkar against Bhosale.
Patil trounced Bhosale by a margin of around 87,000 votes. It was during this election that photos and videos of Sharad Pawar addressing a public meeting in pouring rain went viral, positioning him as the last man standing up to the BJP’s juggernaut, which then seemed invincible. This outpouring of sympathy saw the NCP corner the anti-incumbency vote.
The Congress minister explained that many political turncoats from the Congress and NCP, who had joined the BJP or Shiv Sena on the eve of the assembly polls, had been defeated, making it clear that voters did not stand by those with shifting loyalties.
Shiv Sena leaders admit that the party is trying to lay down its line of succession by promoting Aaditya, who became the first Thackeray to contest and win a public election, and also create and nurture a second rung of leadership in the government. This, they admit, will lead to some veterans being side-lined in favour of fresh blood, leading to frayed tempers. But, despite the bravado of leaders from the parties, the question is, will they manage to keep things under control?
As the ‘Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi’ gets down to the business of governance, will it come apart due to infighting, disgruntlement and inherent contradictions in this political equation? Or will it be like a great Indian wedding where arrangements seem to be coming undone, but fall in place when the ceremonies begin?
Only time will tell.
(The writer is a journalist and author of the book ‘The Cousins Thackeray: Uddhav, Raj and the Shadow of Their Senas’, which is the first political biography of Uddhav and Raj Thackeray. Views are personal)
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