There is no end to surprises when it comes to change of guard in Maharashtra. In an unexpected move, the BJP has announced unconditional support to the rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde, who took oath as Maharashtra’s chief minister Thursday after Uddhav Thackeray resigned from the post. In another dramatic turn, BJP’s former CM Devendra Fadnavis took oath as deputy CM, a post which he claims was forced upon him by his party.
The anointment of Shinde, a Shiv Sainik, is also a tight slap to the Thackeray family, whose strong control had reserved all the spoils of power for people close to it. By picking Shinde, the BJP has put a stamp of legitimacy on the group of MLAs he leads. This ‘rebel’ group will now emerge as the real or original Shiv Sena functioning in the footsteps of its founder Bal Thackeray.
Full of confidence, the new team could even approach the Election Commission and stake claim to Shiv Sena’s symbol of bow and arrow. If it manages to do so, the Shiv Sena would become the first regional party to free itself from the dynastic stigma. It is possible that all its MLAs may soon join the rebel group, making Shinde’s faction the real Shiv Sena.
The BJP’s move also eclipses political veteran and NCP chief Sharad Pawar as the kingmaker of Maharashtra. It was his support to Uddhav Thackeray that sidelined the BJP and kept the single-largest party out of power for two-and-a-half years. Now, the BJP has paid Pawar back in his own coin.
The decision of Uddhav Thackeray to quit as chief minister even before the floor test was a classic example of belated wisdom. The day his trusted lieutenants deserted him, he should have read the writing on the wall. Instead of damage control, he allowed his son Aditya and party’s motormouth spokesperson Sanjay Raut to defend the government from imminent collapse. As a result, Uddhav lost his seat of power in the Maharashtra assembly and has also given up his seat in the Legislative Council.
The epitome of irony in the Maharashtra situation is that if Uddhav had agreed to allow the BJP to form the government in the first half of the five-year term, he could have carried on as the chief minister. It was his claim that the BJP had agreed to this formula, which the BJP denied.
Assuming there indeed was such an agreement, it would have been pragmatic on Uddhav’s part to allow the BJP to run the government for half of the term. Then, if the BJP had refused to vacate and honour the alleged commitment, the Shiv Sena could have quit the government and exposed the BJP. Perhaps then it could have even managed to save the party from splitting.
Uddhav could have chosen any of the ideological issues to exit the alliance, including the renaming of Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar (which, incidentally, was his last administrative decision). It may be recalled that when the BJP and Shiv Sena had contested separately in 1994, one of the Sena’s election promises was renaming Aurangabad. This pro-Hindutva plank gave it unprecedented electoral dividends. The BJP, which was pursuing ‘Gandhian Socialism’, lost the election and had its voter base eroded. Soon after this rout, then-state BJP leadership made a major political course correction and entered into an alliance with the Shiv Sena led by its charismatic leader Bal Thackeray. This partnership gave the BJP a significant ground to veer back to the Hindutva agenda even as it maintained the middle path image. For Shiv Sena, it was a great opportunity to shed its parochial “anti-North/South Indian” image. For the first time, it gained entry into the national political mainstream.
Twenty-two years later, Uddhav’s alliance with the Congress and the NCP led him to squander the very political wealth his father had so assiduously amassed. Uddhav’s unholy haste in projecting his son as his successor and heir to the party’s supreme post drew sharp criticism from senior colleagues. In fact, Bal Thackeray stayed away from contesting elections or holding any office of profit. Besides, when it came to choosing CM candidate, he preferred veteran party loyalist Manohar Joshi over his own son.
Today, Uddhav Thackeray neither has the perks of power nor the dignity of being the chief of a party that once ruled the state.
What now in Maharashtra
The lesson for Shiv Sena is a pointer for all other political parties that are closely held by one family where the apex position is by rule reserved for a family member. Such partyies come to power but fail to deliver or meet the expectations of the voters or even their followers. After the fall of the MVA government, both the Shiv Sena and the NCP now face a serious challenge.
It is not going to be an easy task for the new government to bring Maharashtra back on track. Although, Eknath Shinde is an experienced politician and enjoys the confidence of his colleagues and supporters, besides the BJP leadership.
Besides, the outgoing government has hurriedly approved more than 390 notifications. Most of these were done when it had become evident that the government was in a minority and that all these resolutions will be challenged or de-notified.
The Shinde government will also have to conduct a quick audit of infrastructure projects that could have overshot the budget outlays and yet remain incomplete. The sale of a huge chunk of Aarey Forest in the suburb is nothing short of a scam in the making. The Metro project was denied permission to use a small part of the forest land for Metro Car Shed on grounds of ecological imbalance. The new government should get to work immediately to restore status-quo-ante.
The author is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. He tweets @seshadrichari. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)