Shiv Sena-NCP-Cong govt: Now comes the hard part

Shiv Sena-NCP-Cong govt has lasted 100 days; Now comes the hard part

Uddhav is in the saddle, with a coalition which has numbers, but it is still one that faces a big and determined opposition. 

On March 7, when Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray visits Ayodhya, he will mark 100 days of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra. Uddhav, the son of late Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray is in the driver's seat managing a rather difficult coalition, in which the partners’ numbers are more or less evenly matched.

In the BJP-Shiv Sena government between 2014-19, the BJP had its way. Between 1995-1999, when Shiv Sena was the bigger partner in the alliance with BJP, Balasaheb had run the show, by what is popularly called ‘remote control.’

For 59-year-old Uddhav, the president of Shiv Sena, parting ways with BJP, its ally of 30 years, and joining hands with the Congress-NCP combine was not an easy task. Now, it is an everyday challenge for him to ensure that the MVA, of which he is the unanimous leader, holds together for the full five-year term.

The first three months have been eventful, with the expected pressures from an alliance with the Congress, the grand old party, and the NCP, led by a leader like Sharad Pawar. The Thackeray-Sarkaar is constantly under the scrutiny of the BJP top brass, particularly former chief minister and now the leader of the opposition, Devendra Fadnavis.

The Shiv Sena had decided to contest the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections of 2019 alone. However, then BJP president Amit Shah air-dashed to Mumbai in February last year and sealed a package deal for the two elections. In the Vidhan Sabha elections, the Shiv Sena contested on fewer seats than the BJP, but the latter accommodated other smaller allies in its share.

When the results of the September-October poll came in, the Shiv Sena demanded the post of chief minister, which the BJP rejected outright. The Sena said that the issue of the top chair had been settled during the Shah-Thackeray meeting but the BJP said it had made no such promise.

In the 288-member Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, BJP has a strength of 105, Shiv Sena 56, NCP 54 and Congress 44. There was no way the BJP could reach the magic figure of 145.

The BJP-Sena parleys went nowhere, and Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari recommended President's Rule.

What followed was a game of political intrigues. The Sena, NCP and Congress took several days to patch themselves together into the MVA. But hours after Uddhav was tipped to become chief minister, Sharad Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar went over to the BJP camp, no one knows whether with his uncle’s knowledge or not. In a secret ceremony at dawn, Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were sworn in as chief minister and deputy chief minister, respectively. But their ‘government’ crumbled within 80 hours.

Finally, on November 28, Uddhav was sworn in as chief minister, along with six ministers. It took him more than a month to expand the council of ministers and allocate portfolios. Uddhav's 29-year-old son Aditya is the state Environment, Tourism and Protocol Minister.

Uddhav is in the saddle, with a coalition which has numbers, but it is still one that faces a big and determined opposition. 

There have been some big successes, but some setbacks as well. The big challenge before Uddhav is the agrarian crisis amidst a larger economic slowdown. But he has come out with a loan waiver scheme in which loans up to Rs 2 lakh availed upto September 30, 2019, would be waived. The BJP has called the scheme a “fraud”.

Uddhav also ordered a review of several projects, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train. He also scrapped the Mumbai Metro’s Line 3 car shed project in Aarey Milk Colony, a project that is close to Fadnavis’ heart but which Mumbaikars had opposed tooth-and-nail.

The soft-spoken Uddhav has sought to connect with the masses and launched projects to touch the common man's life. For example, the decision to provide spectacles to schoolchildren free of cost. At the same time, he has also got on board with captains of Indian industry, and has given some momentum to the ‘Magnetic Maharashtra’ mission.

However, Uddhav's decision to appoint Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant as chairman of the Maharashtra State Parliamentary Coordination Committee and MLA Ravindra Waikar as chief coordinator in the CMO had to be scrapped as elected representatives cannot hold offices of profit.

Uddhav had to part with key portfolios such as Home, Finance, Water Resources and Housing to NCP and Revenue and Public Works to the Congress, but that could well ensure the long-term stability of the government. Managing the state’s finances with its debt mounting to nearly Rs 5 lakh crore needs focus. Combating street crime and crimes against women are tasks the government has before it. 

There are challenges ahead – such as the Elgar Parishad-Koregaon Bhima issue. Even as Pawar’s demand for a state police SIT was being discussed, the Centre snatched the case away, ordering the National Investigation Agency to take it over. Pawar and Thackeray had agreed that the Elgar Parishad and Koregaon Bhima were separate incidents and only the investigation of the latter would be handed over to NIA.

Similarly, the CAA-NRC-NPR is an issue on which the Sena has a different opinion from that of the Congress-NCP combine. It is one on which the Sena’s allies would not like to lose ground.

The biggest political challenge before Uddhav is the election to the local bodies and the 2022 polls to municipal corporations of Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Pimpri- Chinchwad among others. The Sena has been in control of the Brihan Mumbai Corporation for 25 years now —and retaining it will be a major challenge.

Then there is the estranged cousin Raj Thackeray and his MNS, now trying hard to occupy the Hindutva space. Uddhav has had to say, time and again, that the Sena has not given up on Hindutva in allying with Congress-NCP. The March 7 visit to Ayodhya is meant to reaffirm that.

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