The Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra was slowly setting an example of how opposition parties can unitedly fight the BJP. But mid-way in its tenure of five years, the Uddhav Thackeray-led and Sharad Pawar-crafted mega-alliance gets a massive jolt from the blue. Thackeray’s trouble-shooter and an influential leader from Thane, Eknath Shinde rebelled, threatening the existence of MVA, which assumed office on November 28, 2019.
Chief Minister Thackeray seems to have ignored too many warning shots - despite the fact that the 2019 Maharashtra Legislative Assembly elections had thrown up a fractured mandate. The rebellion by Shinde has come as a bolt from the blue to the Shiv Sena and MVA.
Not only has Shinde struck a blow to Shiv Sena, he is also trying to reach out to the unhappy members of NCP and Congress and enjoys the support of several independent and smaller groups. Shinde’s rebellion comes just after the MVA’s drubbing at the hands of BJP in the Rajya Sabha polls on June 10 and Maharashtra Legislative Council polls on June 20.
Besides, the MVA was riddled with intra-party and inter-party conflicts and disputes -- which made it more vulnerable to the BJP’s game plan.
The most crucial thing to watch for, now, is whether Pawar, the chief architect of MVA, manages to salvage the situation.
With several top leaders, ministers and MLAs under the radar of investigative and enforcement agencies like CBI, ED, IT, NIA and NCB, problems seem to be compounding for the MVA government by the day.
MVA leaders were constantly targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, which has not gone down well among the BJP’s top brass and Maharashtra stalwarts like Devendra Fadnavis, two-time chief minister and now the Leader of Opposition. Besides, the stand-off between Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and the ruling dispensation is no secret.
From the time the Shiv Sena broke ranks with BJP, its ally of three-decades, it was clear that the BJP, still the single largest party, could give a body blow to the Trimurti-alliance.
Since the beginning, a large section of Shiv Sena MLAs including Shinde were unhappy because of breaking ties with the BJP, which was nurtured by the late Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray. Many were not comfortable with joining hands with NCP and Congress, which they have been fighting for decades; it was difficult for them to convince their supporters and justify the alliance.
However, after a momentous task lasting for over a month, the MVA was stitched together. But it was at loggerheads with the BJP-led Centre on almost every issue, much to the displeasure of the saffron party. The biggest problem that the Thackeray sarkar faced was the Covid-19 pandemic, the handling of which was bitterly attacked. The chief minister remained inaccessible and preferred to work-from-home.
“Ministers and MLAs were denied appointments several times, the work in the Shiv Sena constituencies and strongholds were being affected,” according to informed sources, who added that when the state was recovering, Thackeray himself underwent a surgery of his spine and a rather long recuperation period.
They were also unhappy with allocation of portfolios and complained that the “best portfolios” went to Pawar’s party. “Despite being the largest party, they did not have the two most important portfolios of Home (which is with NCP) and Revenue (which is with Congress),” sources said.
A lot of affairs in Mumbai and the larger Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) were given to Thackeray’s son Aaditya, the tourism, environment and protocol minister. In fact, the father-son duo were directly handling the affairs of the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), one of the biggest and the richest civic bodies, under Shiv Sena’s control for over quarter of a century.
The BJP spread unease among the Sena ranks as well as the MVA, and ensured the embarrassment of the government.
State Forest Minister Sanjay Rathod, a leader from the Banjara community, whose name has cropped up in the wake of mysterious death of social media star Pooja Chavan, had to resign on February 28, 2021. The state home minister Anil Deshmukh had to resign less than two months later. Deshmukh, who is considered close to Pawar and party’s General Secretary Praful Patel, had to resign after former Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh shot off a letter to the chief minister alleging that he has fixed a collection target of Rs 100 crore per month for now-dismissed assistant police inspector Sachin Waze - prompting the CBI and ED to step in. As of now he is under custody. On March 3 this year, NCP’s Nawab Malik, now a minister without portfolio, was arrested by the ED in connection with a money laundering probe linked to the activities of Pakistan-based underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.
Uddhav’s close aide and the state Transport and Enforcement Directorate Anil Parab too is facing problems from ED. It needs to be mentioned that Thackeray’s bete noire, Union MSME Minister Narayan Rane and his son Nitesh Rane have been targeting Aaditya in the wake of deaths of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput and talent manager Disha Salian. After the Supreme Court order, the CBI had taken over the case in August, 2020, and the case is still open. In short, for MVA, the countdown seems to have started.