The sheer magnitude of devastation that Maharashtra has witnessed due to a non-performing conglomeration of rank opportunists, makes it an imperative for India to have a law to bar pilfering of public mandate in the future.
Side A and Side B were locked in the final of a cricket tournament. Side A won the match with a decent enough contribution from a batsman called Uddhav Thackeray. But in the end, Uddhav was adamant that he be declared the team captain before the prize distribution ceremony. When his demand was not met, Uddhav transferred his half century to Side B and ensured a losing team was declared the winner.
The kind of wretched promiscuity that had gone into the formation of the unnatural Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra has been clearly visible throughout the coronavirus crisis. Not once have the three parties — the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party — acted in unison.
While Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and his colleague, former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, have clearly shrugged off the party’s responsibility for the Maharashtra fiasco, NCP leaders such as state home minister Anil Deshmukh have been clueless non-performers, aggravating the crisis manifold. The role of the cunning Sharad Pawar is mired in speculation. He has had long meetings with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, but we don’t know if the meetings were to offer positive inputs or to manipulate the government to extract gains for the NCP.
All said and done and despite CM Thackeray’s belaboured but hollow Facebook lives, the Covid-19 situation in Maharashtra has not improved at all in the past two months. Today, Maharashtra contributes over 36 per cent of the total coronavirus cases in India; it records more than 2,000 new cases on an average every day. Maharashtra’s Covid-19 mortality rate is 3.25 per cent, above the national average of 2.86 per cent. The state has reported unimaginable medical horrors where patients have died waiting for ICU beds.
The onus for this failure clearly lies upon CM Thackeray’s ineptitude and his clumsy notions about the chair he holds, just as it does upon the unnatural alliance wherein governance was never even remotely on the agenda.
Communication breakdown with alliance partners
What has been CM Thackeray’s schedule during the lockdown? There is barely any evidence of him communicating regularly with fellow ministers or bureaucrats and taking stock of the situation on a regular basis. No wonder then that while the CM announced on his Facebook live on 24 May that Maharashtra was not ready for flight operations yet, by evening, his cabinet colleague, minister Nawab Malik had confirmed 25 flight operations for next day. When Railway Minister Piyush Goyal called out the CM’s bluff on the issue of trains not being provided for migrants, the CM didn’t have a response.
IAS lobby calling the shots
The absence of political leadership through the Covid-19 crisis in Maharashtra is corroborated by none other than Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan. It seems that the state government is unaware of the powers and functions of the second-tier of government and instead wants to put the third-tier — the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) — at the front. This abdication of responsibility on the part of the state government is utterly shocking.
Confrontationist attitude towards Centre
Every time questions have been raised about the state government’s failures, Uddhav Thackeray has blamed the Narendra Modi government at the Centre for not providing adequate funds to the state. His lie was eventually exposed by former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis with facts and figures, to which the CM or his government had no response.
The fact is that an alarmingly high number of migrant labourers did not get any ration from the state government during the lockdown, due to which most were forced into leaving the state for their native places.
The horrors that Maharashtra has witnessed on account of the state government’s apathy is going to remain etched in public memory for a very long time. What made the situation unpardonably cringeworthy was Rahul Gandhi’s admission that his party is not the decision maker in Maharashtra. In many ways, it was an admission that all the three parties in alliance are solely there to fill up their party coffers for the long years of hibernation that lies ahead of them.
The ‘unnatural’ alliance
The devastation that the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP government has wreaked upon Maharashtra demands that we take a larger view of the situation. A Westminster democracy often makes a mockery of numbers. We have seen it happen in 1996 when H.D. Deve Gowda, who wouldn’t have imagined himself being a national leader ever, overnight became prime minister of a grossly opportunist government, which derailed India’s development agenda. What happened in Maharashtra in 2019 was far worse: stealing a mandate by swapping partners — a misadventure that drove Maharashtra into the tragic mess it finds itself in today.
We, therefore, ideally need a law — “Prevention of Subversion of Public Mandate Act” — to prevent such damage in future. In the absence of the prerequisite majority for a pre-poll alliance for whatsoever reasons, the threshold for government formation should be brought down to winning 40 per cent of the seats.
We have seen the minority government of P.V. Narasimha Rao perform remarkably well in 1991, whereas an unnatural alliance fail in 1996. The Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance is so unnatural that its partners are never sure it exists for real.
The author is a writer and a national media panelist of the BJP. Views are personal.