Uddhav Thackeray's reign on thin ice

Maharashtra Chief Minister has begun his innings with the challenge of keeping the unlikely allies together and happy.

 |  5-minute read |   29-11-2019
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The multiple ironies are inescapable. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was sworn in as Maharashtra’s new chief minister on November 28 at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park where his father Balasaheb Thackeray had launched the party in 1966.

Indira Gandhi, then newly installed as Prime Minister, had mentored the Sena. Now, 53 years later, her daughter-in-law Sonia’s decision to ally with the Shiv Sena and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), in a seemingly incongruous secular-Hindutva triangle of power, has vaulted Balasaheb’s son to the top post in Maharashtra.

Ironies abound

The biggest irony of all is this: Uddhav never wanted to be CM. Known as the quiet Thackeray, he was happier being a wildlife photographer while he groomed son Aaditya for a future political role. Uddhav has neither the temperament nor the health to be a 24/7 CM. He was admitted to a hospital in July 2012 with a serious heart condition. At the time, a panicked Balasaheb had phoned Uddhav’s estranged cousin Raj Thackeray to rush to Lilavati Hospital to be by his son’s side. Doctors said over 60 per cent of Uddhav’s coronary arteries were blocked. An angioplasty was carried out and eight stents inserted. Five months later, in November 2012, Uddhav underwent further medical procedures. An angiography in May 2016 showed the stents were functioning normally though doctors prescribed lifestyle changes.

main_uddhav_cm_660_2_112919121829.jpgUddhav Thackeray has the unenviable task of keeping a coalition of unlikely allies. (Photo: PTI)

Uddhav’s ascension to power has one final irony. He had demanded that former CM Devendra Fadnavis share the post of CM with a Shiv Sena leader for two-and-a-half-years each. Fadnavis refused. The BJP’s Delhi leadership backed Fadnavis. In retrospect, that was a miscalculation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah thought — perfectly reasonable at the time — that the Congress, which wears its secularism as a badge of honour, would never join an alliance with the Shiv Sena whose Hindutva ideology is even more deeply rooted than the BJP’s.

Congress’ interim president, Sonia Gandhi, at first had grave misgivings about partnering the Sena. Would not the Muslim voter — who distrusts the Sena as much as it despises the BJP — abandon the Congress?

That fear was quickly extinguished by Sonia’s key advisors, including her political secretary Ahmed Patel. They argued – rightly – that Muslims would ‘understand’ if the Congress allied with the Sena to form the government in Maharashtra. Muslims may not like the Sena’s hard Hindutva — Sainiks were among those who demolished the Babri Masjid and vociferously back the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) — but they fear the BJP’s concept of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ far more. Keeping the BJP out of power was the larger priority.

Writing on the wall

For the Congress, Maharashtra is a big prize. Its economy is larger than the GDP of every country in India’s South Asian neighbourhood. Mumbai houses the headquarters of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and every major bank and financial institution. The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE) have a combined daily turnover of over Rs 8,00,000 crore. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is the richest municipality in India with an annual budget larger than that of several states. Sonia processed all this information quickly. It helped swing her decision to join the Maha Vikas Aghadi government.

main_sonia-and-pawar_112919122045.jpgSharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi now hold the remote in Maharashtra. (Photo: PTI)

Maharashtra represents a serious loss of face for the BJP. Its miscalculation will hurt the BJP in three ways. First, it will dent the party’s image of always being able to ‘manage’ majorities in states like Karnataka, Goa and several in the northeast. Second, just as success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. Fadnavis’ reputation as an incorruptible leader, who was transforming Mumbai’s long-neglected infrastructure, will be tarnished by the misadventure of the three-day failed coup with the NCP’s Ajit Pawar. Third, the halo of invincibility around both Modi and Shah will dim. They backed Fadnavis to the hilt and must share the responsibility for the debacle.

Sena must deliver

Two questions remain. One, how will this misadventure affect the BJP’s electoral prospects in other states? Jharkhand goes to polls shortly and the BJP, bereft of allies, looks vulnerable. Delhi follows early next year with Bihar looming soon after.

Much depends on how Uddhav performs as CM. If he derails half-completed infra projects like the 12-line, 276-km-long Metro with 250 stations on environmental grounds, he will quickly lose public support. The electoral mandate, he will be constantly reminded, was for a BJP-Shiv Sena alliance government which won a combined 161 seats. In contrast, the Sena (56 seats) and Congress (44) have just 100 MLAs between them, less than the BJP (105) alone. The NCP with 54 seats is a fickle partner as history has demonstrated.

Sharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi now hold the remote in Maharashtra. Either could withdraw support at a moment’s notice and the Maha Vikas Aghadi government would come crashing down. Uddhav will be CM for five years, say jubilant Shiv Sainiks. Unless they leave their Hindutva agenda behind in Shivaji Park, Uddhav’s term as CM could be shorter than they imagine.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Forever in shadows, can Uddhav Thackeray ever be his own man?


Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

The writer is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. He is a media group chairman and editor. He is the author of The New Clash of Civilizations

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