New Delhi: Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya Thackeray must turn to their ally, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, for a tutorial in real politics.
During the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai, P.V. Narsimha Rao, the then Prime Minister, had requested Pawar to go down to the state and take over the reigns as chief minister to control the situation.
He was able to do so effectively because he had the experience, and if there is one person who can salvage the Maharashtra government right now, it’s Sharad Pawar.
Additionally, if there is one person who can bring down this government, it is Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, and two men who can be his allies in letting this government fall — Uddhav Thackeray and his son.
Pawar spent over an hour with Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari Monday, triggering speculation about the stability of the government at a time when the Maha Vikas Aghadi government seems to be flailing in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The NCP leader, however, called on Uddhav Thackeray soon after. Pawar has always given many signals without saying anything. Former President Pranab Mukherjee once told Shekhar Gupta that “Sharad Pawar always gives mixed signals”.
Furthermore, he plays a key role in holding this government together in Maharashtra.
One party domination
The Maharashtra coalition government is presently being dominated by just one party — the Shiv Sena. By extension, it is dominated by that one family and that one father-son duo.
This dominance has led to a number of issues, including why today, as the government is under attack, Shiv Sena’s own ally Congress isn’t defending it aggressively.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi distanced himself from the state government Tuesday when he said the Congress is only playing a supporting role in Maharashtra.
“We are supporting the government in Maharashtra, but we are not the key decision-maker in Maharashtra. We are decision-makers in Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Puducherry. There is a difference between running the government and supporting it,” he said at a press conference.
Gandhi was responding to questions on the rising coronavirus cases in the state, and a potential rift between the three ruling parties given their handling of the crisis.
This came even as Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut asserted Tuesday that the government is “strong”, after the meeting between Thackeray and Pawar.
After Gandhi’s comment created a flutter in Maharashtra political circles, he called up Thackeray to assure him of the Congress’ full support to the government.
A ‘three-legged stool’ coalition
The alliance of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress is unsustainable and akin to an uneven “three-legged stool”.
While Thackeray’s Shiv Sena has 56 seats, the NCP has 54 and the Congress has only 44 seats in the state assembly.
As a result, the Thackerays form a long leg of the stool, while the NCP and the Congress are the two shorter legs. The solution is to either saw off the longer leg, or to fix the shorter ones. In this case, the shorter two legs have been sawn off further, in terms of the representation in the Cabinet, among other things.
Father-son teams aren’t new and exist across state governments, such as Chief Minister K.Chandrasekhar Rao and his son K.T. Rama Rao in Telangana. Or, in Punjab, former chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal, deputy CM from 2009-2017, ruled the state.
However, in all these examples, the CM’s and their ruling parties enjoyed a sweeping majority. Unlike in Maharashtra’s case where the Shiv Sena has only 56 seats in a very large house. Here, it’s a highly inexperienced father-son duo running the government.
Why Gandhi isn’t defending the govt
Rahul Gandhi is not defending the government for two reasons.
For one, Gandhi is concerned that if things go terribly wrong in Maharashtra, it could become a symbol of loss of control in the fight against Covid-19 and that is a failure that the Congress party wouldn’t want to be associated with. So Congress may be developing cold feet.
Secondly, Gandhi may be wondering what the Congress stands to gain by defending the government at such a time. While some of Congress leaders got a place in the state’s Cabinet, this isn’t a coalition government, it’s essentially a Shiv Sena government.
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