Today, we are in power. Even in broad daylight, I cannot believe it,’ said Bal Thackeray on 14 March 1995, after Manohar Joshi from the Shiv Sena was sworn in as the chief minister of Maharashtra at Shivaji Park, Dadar. Two decades later, Uddhav Thackeray, the first member from the Thackeray family to have become the chief minister of Maharashtra, could have uttered the same words.
On 11 November, the NCP chief, Sharad Pawar, had a meeting with Shiv Sena chief, Uddhav Thackeray, at Taj Lands End Hotel, Bandra. In this meeting, Ajit Pawar, Sunil Tatkare and Dilip Walse- Patil were also present, and it was here that it was formally decided that the Congress, the Shiv Sena and the NCP would form a coalition. However, while Sharad Pawar was confident about government formation, he was concerned about the chief ministerial candidate. After the Taj meeting, Sharad Pawar, while heading downstairs in an elevator, asked Raut, ‘It is fine that we are coming together and forming the government, but who will be the leader? Who will be the chief minister?’ Pawar added, ‘I am hearing a couple of names but those names are not acceptable. Aaditya [Thackeray] is too junior to lead, Ajit Pawar and other seniors leaders cannot work under him. Eknath Shinde and Subhash Desai’s names are not acceptable to us. Desai sleeps in the Cabinet.’
Pawar did have a name in mind, and hinted that Uddhav Thackeray had to lead.
Raut immediately went back to the room where Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray were sitting. He informed them that Pawar was ready to form the alliance, but he was concerned about the chief ministerial candidate. Raut reported that, ‘The names which are floated for the chief ministerial position are not acceptable to them. He wants you as the chief minister of Maharashtra.’ Uddhav Thackeray was very uneasy. ‘I have never been in the government,’ he said. Raut replied, ‘If you wish to have a CM from the Shiv Sena, then you have to prepare yourself and be ready to be the CM of Maharashtra. Otherwise, the NCP and the Congress will not give their support.’
Aaditya Thackeray, who was listening to this conversation, earnestly jumped into the discussion and told his father, ‘Baba [father], you have to accept the challenge. You have to lead Maharashtra . . . You have to do it for the future of the party and state.’
Bal Thackeray and Sharad Pawar were political rivals but they had remained good friends. Bal Thackeray had also extended his party’s support when Supriya Sule, Pawar’s daughter, had filed her application for the Rajya Sabha elections. After hearing Supriya’s name, Thackeray personally called Pawar and said that Supriya was like his daughter, so his party would not put up any candidate against her. She would be elected unopposed. Pawar later said that such a decision could only be taken by Thackeray.
Apart from it being the need of the hour, there were other reasons behind Uddhav Thackeray’s decision of accepting the CM’s post. As a photographer, he had closely observed his late father, Bal Thackeray, and his style of functioning in politics and its pros and cons. Sources in the Sena revealed that there were continuous clashes between the chief minister and Matoshree due to there being two power centres. This friction kept the Shiv Sena along with the BJP out of power for fifteen years. Thus, rather than falling into the same trap and making someone else from the party the chief minister, the Shiv Sena chief decided to take upon himself this role to secure the future of his family and the party as well.’
In 1995, Manohar Joshi was elected as the first chief minister of a non-Congress government, while the BJP leader Gopinath Munde was the deputy chief minister. That year, many Shiv Sena workers had appealed to Bal Thackeray, requesting him to accept the position of the chief minister of Maharashtra. However, Thackeray preferred to remain out of power but retain all control of power in his hand. That led to him being hailed as the ‘remote control’ government.
It must have been a tough decision to say ‘no’ to the position of the chief minister of Maharashtra. Thackeray’s party won many corporation elections and other polls but he preferred to run those governments, ranging from local body to the state, through remote control.
In 1995, the Shiv Sena and the BJP had formed the government primarily by opposing the then chief minister Sharad Pawar’s decision of approving the Enron power project at Dabhol. US-based Enron’s 2.8 billion-dollar project was being stalled on charges of corruption. To save the project, Enron’s Rebecca Mark rushed from the US to India. She officially scheduled her meeting with Chief Minister Manohar Joshi at the Secretariat House on 1 November 1995. Interestingly, before Mark could meet Joshi, she had been called to Matoshree to meet the Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray. Thackeray not only interfered in the project, looking into key decisions, but also in the appointment of the top bureaucratic posts.
Manohar Joshi and Gopinath Munde were in power but the real power centre was Matoshree, the residence of Bal Thackeray. There were other cases, too, in which the discord between the Thackeray family and the government in power became apparent.
A legacy of conflicts between the government and Matoshree perhaps led Uddhav Thackeray to finally take on the responsibilities in his own hands and avoid the conflict of having two power centres—Matoshree and the chief minister’s office.
While there could be multiple reasons behind this decision, the fact remains that on 28 November 2019, Uddhav Thackeray took the oath as the chief minister of Maharashtra at Shivaji Park, Dadar. He was to lead a rainbow coalition government with the Congress, the Shiv Sena and the NCP. Thackeray proved the majority of his government on the floor of the house with 169 votes in the 288-member Maharashtra state assembly.
Prakash Akolkar in his book Jai Maharashtra, in the chapter ‘Sattagrahanantar Sangharsh [Struggle after Coming to Power]’, wisely stated, ‘If the Shiv Sena comes into power for the second time, then this power struggle will continue; the only difference will be that the struggle and friction will be between the chief minister and Uddhav Thackeray. If Uddhav Thackeray wants to avoid this “power friction”, he should be the chief minister of Maharashtra.’ This book was first published in 1998 and today, this reads like a prophecy.
This excerpt from Checkmate: How BJP Won and Lost Maharashtra by Sudhir Suryawanshi has been published with permission from Penguin Random House India.