Sharad Pawar addresses the media in New Delhi
Sharad Pawar addresses the media | File photo | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
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Mumbai: Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar seems to be driving the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra amid the coronavirus crisis.

Be it guiding civil servants and the chief minister, or approaching the central government for assistance, Pawar has been taking the lead in steering the state’s response to the pandemic, with Uddhav, an administrative greenhorn, largely following the lead of his veteran alliance partner.

Maharashtra is governed by a tripartite alliance involving the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress.

Six months into his maiden tenure as chief minister, Thackeray finds himself grappling with an unprecedented crisis in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Despite being under a lockdown, Maharashtra has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases among all states. As of Monday, Maharashtra had registered 50,231 Covid-19 cases (14,600 cured/discharged, 1,635 deaths), which is 36 per cent of India’s total. Of this, 30,542 cases have been reported from financial capital Mumbai alone.

Amid this crisis, the Shiv Sena says Pawar’s guidance is an asset, adding that the party does not see his involvement as interference.


Also Read: Uddhav Thackeray has failed to handle Covid crisis. Bring in Army to save Mumbai

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A guiding light

Pawar’s lead role in Maharashtra’s Covid-19 response has been quite evident.

On Monday morning, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, who has been putting pressure on the chief minister to tackle the Covid-19 situation better, invited Pawar to Raj Bhavan for a meeting. 

This was seen as crucial as the governor has been independently monitoring the pandemic situation in the state, and has been unhappy with the state’s response to the pandemic, said sources in the MVA.

Koshyari had earlier invited Thackeray, last week, but the chief minister sent his PA to the meeting instead.  

Over the past few weeks, Pawar has held regular meetings with Thackeray, and also been an active participant in the Covid-19 briefings by the state’s civil servants. 

Last week, Pawar held two meetings with Thackeray in a span of four days – on 19 May and 23 May, at the state government guest house Sahyadri at Malabar Hill and the old Mayor’s bungalow at Dadar, respectively. They also met on 15 May, and held multiple virtual meetings earlier. 

At last week’s meetings, Pawar emphasised the need for ministers to start functioning from Mantralaya to instil confidence in the public, MVA sources said. 

Mantralaya is serving as the Maharashtra Covid-19 control room, but most activity is driven by the state’s civil servants, with ministers tuning in virtually. 

Only a handful of ministers are currently present in Mumbai, with the majority operating from their home constituencies. As cases rise in Mumbai, which may continue to be in the red zone for an extended period, even the ministers who are in the city have seemed unwilling to move out of their bungalows. 

Thackeray has largely been functioning from Matoshree, his Bandra residence, stirring out rarely for inspections, and only a few of his ministers have been seen moving around and physically monitoring the situation. 

Pawar, it is learnt, has told the chief minister that the image of ministers attending work at the government headquarters will instil confidence in the public. 

Multiple MVA sources said Pawar is also keen that the chief minister himself start working from his office at Mantralaya.

Pawar, the sources added, has also been trying to convince Thackeray to ease the lockdown with a phase-wise exit plan. According to sources, Pawar has told Thackeray that an indefinite lockdown will cause the public’s patience to wear thin, and turn them against the government.

Speaking to ThePrint, a principal secretary said it was “not easy for a virtual government to function”. 

“When we are taking a risk and coming to Mantralaya, it is also the duty and responsibility of the ministers to be present in person. In a pandemic, the government cannot be run in a virtual setting,” the principal secretary added. 

A second senior civil servant said “Maharashtra cannot run on video meetings”.

“First, these ministers fought to be in the cabinet. Then they fought over cabinet berths. Now, when there is a pandemic, at a scale we have never seen before, these ministers are working from home,” the civil servant added.  


Also Read: Come to your balcony today, wear black, slam Uddhav — BJP gives ‘bartan bajaao’ political twist


Presenting the state’s case

However, it’s not solely an advisory role that Pawar is playing.

After a meeting with Thackeray on 15 May, Pawar visited the newly constructed Covid-19 centre at the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) Ground in the Bandra-Kurla Complex, and inspected the quarantine facility and makeshift hospital built by the civic agency. 

The leader has also been holding regular FacebookLive interactions with the public on issues relating to agriculture, education, and industries, and the challenges being faced during the lockdown. 

He regularly tweets on various challenges relating to the lockdown too. Earlier this month, after the central government gave its go-ahead for special Shramik Express trains to ferry stranded migrant labourers home, he requested the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Twitter to look into some states’ refusal to let the workers return.

On 15 May, he tweeted that he had written to the PMO, seeking his “urgent intervention to bail out #sugar industry from crisis aggravated exponentially by unprecedented nationwide lockdown in the wake of pandemic #Covid-19”. 

On 26 April, he wrote to PM Narendra Modi and Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman suggesting a generous financial package for Maharashtra as it deals with the economic hit of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“So far, Mumbai is the hardest hit city in the Covid-19 outbreak and the prolonged lockdown conditions. It has severely impacted the economy of Maharashtra and may have detrimental consequences on the Indian economy if not addressed urgently,” he wrote in a letter that was released to the media. 

Last week, he participated in the virtual conference of opposition leaders convened by Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi.

‘Valuable guidance’

The Shiv Sena doesn’t seem miffed by Pawar’s initiative, and appears to have taken note of his guidance. 

In his weekly column in Saamana, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, this Sunday, Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut issued a veiled warning to ministers who have kept away from Mantralaya. Raut said many ministers may lose their jobs if they do not start working from Mantralaya. 

Speaking to ThePrint, senior Shiv Sena leaders said they didn’t see Pawar’s role as interference, adding that his experience is valuable as it gives the government direction at a difficult time. 

Senior Shiv Sena leader and MLC Dr Neelam Gorhe said Pawar’s interactions with the chief minister and the ministers were “constructive dialogue for the government”. 

“Basically, the Shiv Sena has very cordial relations with Pawar saheb. His experience is valuable to the government,” she added. 

Another Shiv Sena leader said his active interactions with the civil servants keep them on their toes since the “bureaucracy respects Pawar”. 

“The bureaucracy is not helping the government. They are divided among themselves and are engaged in ego tussles. Now, they have fallen in line,” said the senior leader.


Also Read: Sharad Pawar shows why he is the shrewd fox of Indian politics


 

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9 Comments Share Your Views

9 COMMENTS

  1. I am praising Sekhar Babu for excellent briefing and explanation on YouTube. Thanks to the PRINT team.

  2. Pawar has NO experience and because his NCP Party is in power sharing in Maharashtra and no where else Shiv Sena given him an opportunity to fix the Covid19 problem.What has he achieved in Maharashtra just line the pockets his daughter and his friends in NCP and look at number of Covid19 cases in Maharashtra which keeps rising every day.?Corrupt politician like Pawar is there for money and friend like Praful Patel does the same thing,lines his pockets.Haima, how much money did NCP,Congress and Shiv Sena pay you to write this story?

  3. Is this a paid article and if Yes how much has been paid by the Mahvikas Aghadi to The Print ? Or is it blatant and shameless canvassing of a failed leader who neither did anything for farmers or our defence forces when he held the Agriculture and Defence portfolio at the centre nor he could get NCP a full majority in his own state of Maharashtra in last 30 years. Is this an example of leadership which the mediocre and tainted media like to promote ?

  4. Shri Sharad Pawar has all the qualifications to serve as Minister Mentor for the state government. After the Bombay bomb blasts, one of which took place in the basement of the stock exchange building, he ensured that the bourse was functioning within a couple of days. Ministers confining themselves to their districts when the state is facing its worst ever crisis is like leaving the battlefield in the midst of war.

  5. Sharad Pawar has taken lead role in Maharashtra Covid crisis. Is that why the whole thing is in a mess. Mumbai has become global centre for Covid-19 and Pune is a close second. There is complete confusion regarding orders and no one has the authority to give clarifications.

    • Yes you are spot on. The man who couldn’t do anything worthwhile for the farmers of this country when he was the Agriculture minister at the centre, he couldn’t do anything worthwhile for our defence forces when he was the defence minister and our army was fighting with old weapons without any modernization. His party, NCP which he formed after breaking with congress over Sonia’s foreign origins could never get majority on its own in Pawar’s own state of Maharashtra. This is what is Pawar’s capability and now he is being touted as the covid fighter and projected as some sort of able leader. Nothing can be further from truth. At best he is a stuntman whose world revolves around the local TV channels in Maharashtra which are subservient to any dispensation which opposes the BJP. This is non event being projected as some great breaking news.

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