The Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra has, time and again, shown how it’s an unabashed embodiment of a disorganised, whimsical, clumsy, fickle, and a rollout-rollback administration, whose sole objective is to remain in power at the expense of people’s sufferings. The fickleness is, by all means, the result of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s stubborn aloofness, or quite simply, his inability to indulge in administrative details.
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Testing the chaos theory
Consider this: barely three days after an order was issued, the transfer of 10 DCPs in Mumbai Police was revoked at the behest of the chief minister. It looks like a turf war between the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which holds the home portfolio. There are also reports of Shiv Sena’s murky internal politics at play, suggesting that CM Thackeray was under pressure by local leaders of the Shiv Sena to ensure that plum postings went to state police service officers, and not to those belonging to other carders. In the end, it required the 79-year-old NCP chief, Sharad Pawar, to make one more trip to Matoshree to iron out the differences within the coalition.
Whatever be the reasons for the rollback of the internal reshuffle in the police department, it proves once again that governance was never a priority for the Thackeray government; petty tug-of-wars are what dictate the CM’s agenda at a time when the state is battling the coronavirus onslaught.
This rollout-rollback politics has been a pattern in Maharashtra throughout the Covid crisis, only aggravating public suffering.
In June end, the Mumbai Police imposed a ‘travel diktat’, restricting people’s movement beyond 2 km from their homes, except for employment or medical emergencies. It was rather rich for the government to impose such a move during Unlock 1, considering the shambolic lockdown it had presided earlier. The state government’s order resulted in harassment of the people. Nearly 6,000 vehicles were impounded in just two days, and the rule caused massive traffic snarls across Mumbai. Yet again, it took Sharad Pawar to drill reason into the CM, before the rule was tweaked.
Another bizarre development that occurred in Thackeray’s theatre of the absurd was the state government giving a go-ahead for purchase of six luxury cars costing Rs 1.37 crore, without any apparent urgency. This, when the state government has admittedly borrowed money to pay salaries to its employees.
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Allies in trouble
Uddhav Thackeray is a temperamental politician. The BJP realised this after the election result last October when he stopped taking calls from former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, thus killing a beautiful partnership which Bal Thackeray and Pramod Mahajan had engendered in the late 1980s.
Now, the Congress and the NCP have the same grouse against Uddhav Thackeray – he is unapproachable. Thackeray is obsessed with his home, doesn’t go to the office and doesn’t believe in talking to allies before taking important decisions.
The Shiv Sena attacked the Congress for criticising the coalition government in its mouthpiece Saamana, comparing the Congress with an old cot that makes unnecessary noise. The Congress has since retreated into temporary silence, perhaps seething in anger and waiting for the right moment to avenge the insult.
However, the NCP has been more aggressive in showing the Shiv Sena its place. On 4 July, five Shiv Sena corporators joined the NCP in the presence of Deputy Chief Minister and NCP leader Ajit Pawar in Ahmednagar district. That the Shiv Sena arm-twisted the NCP and ensured the return of these corporators, is just another chapter in this endless saga of internal divisions in the coalition. It remains to be seen how Ajit Pawar responds to the latest insult.
It is an open secret in the power circles of Mumbai that Ajit Pawar finds it difficult to accept the non-performing Thackeray as his leader. Each time Ajit Pawar has become restless, the senior Pawar has prevailed upon him. But the escalated turf war between the Shiv Sena and NCP clearly suggests that things are now getting out of hand.
With such open animosity between the three parties, it takes an unusual thick skin to shrug off each other’s humiliation and pretend ‘all is well’. But then, with his insatiable greed for power and limited abilities, Uddhav Thackeray doesn’t have an alternative.
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The ex-CM factor
In the face of an abject governance deficit that Maharashtra is witnessing right now, it is obvious for the people to draw comparisons with the hands-on approach of Thackeray’s predecessor Devendra Fadnavis. Rising to the occasion, Fadnavis has travelled the state extensively over the last few weeks, reaching out to the people who have been suffering due to the indifference of the state government. Within five days of Cyclone Nisarga’s landfall, Fadnavis travelled to the worst-affected areas of Konkan, inspected the damage and met the people at relief camps. Soon after, he submitted a detailed note to the CM, highlighting the need for more aid. CM Thackeray, for his part, never bothered to visit the affected areas.
One of the biggest failings of Maharashtra’s Covid war has been the gross mis-management of hospitals. Videos have emerged showing corpses lying alongside patients in the wards of KEM Hospital and Sion Hospital in Mumbai. The CM never bothered to visit any hospital or meet medical professionals. The entire focus of the state government was on the ill-conceived creation of jumbo quarantine centres, many of which remained unoccupied.
The real challenge, on the other hand, was the absence of oxygen concentrators and ICU beds, which led to a high casualty until a month ago. The state government has followed an outsourced model — making bureaucrats responsible for everything, without bothering to get involved and look into the details.
Contrast Thackeray’s casual stay-at-home style with the proactive, hands-on approach of Fadnavis. The former CM has travelled to hospitals and quarantine centres across Maharashtra, be it Pune, Amravati or Konkan. In all these places, he has held extensive meetings with government officials to understand their difficulties and offered his suggestions. He has personally inspected quarantine centres in Maharashtra’s interior areas, often putting his own health at risk.
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Maha Vikas Aghadi’s alliance partners are disgruntled by their mutual incompatibility and the realisation that they don’t have a future together. Many in the NCP regret not going with the BJP after the assembly election last year. Some leaders in Shiv Sena and Congress too feel that their ppolitical careers have been jeopardised by this unnatural, forced alliance, and shudder to face the voters again.
As far as the BJP is concerned, the party is ready for fresh elections anytime. By virtue of the BJP’s performance in the previous government, the party retained 70 per cent of the seats it contested in the 2019 assembly election. The Thackeray-led coalition government’s non-performance and its repeated betrayal of the people will ensure the BJP’s return to power on its own in the next election.
The writing on the wall is clear and legible. Uddhav Thackeray must not make Maharashtra suffer for his selfish gains.
Tuhin Sinha @tuhins is a writer and a national media panelist of the BJP. Views are personal.