Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal have got off to an encouraging start by forbidding any celebrations surrounding their taking up office. But, it would be far too premature at this stage to say that well begun is half done. Both have clearly realised that, whatever their political differences, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have little option but to pull together. Public anger at the manner in which former CM Vilasrao Deshmukh and his deputy R.R. Patil handled the aftermath of the blasts seems to have had a salutary effect on many of Maharashtra’s top politicians.
Now Mr Chavan and Mr Bhujbal face the litmus test of how they will get things back on keel in a wounded city and restore public confidence in the administrative machinery. Even as they are engaged in this task, they will have to ensure that the two crucial vote-banks, those of Marathas and OBCs/Dalits — do not slip out of the Congress-NCP hands. Apart from all the damage the city has suffered, the top leaders will have to rein in any further attempts from divisive politicians like Raj Thackeray to cash in on the situation. No one is better equipped for this than Mr Bhujbal who enjoys considerable respect among the OBCs who have been chafing at the manner in which the Marathas have been pushing for reservations. Mr Chavan who is a Maratha, can, if he plays his cards right, contain people like Raj Thackeray and his attempts to destroy the cosmopolitan character of this once great city.
There is great hope that with Mr Chavan’s elevation, there will be freshness and enthusiasm both within the party and the government. But the need of the hour is to show the public that the political leadership can rise above politics — unlike the unseemly conduct of people like Revenue Minister Narayan Rane, a challenger for the post. His utterances against Mr Chavan questioning his credentials will send out all the wrong signals at a time like this. His allegations that there is some sort of conspiracy afoot to keep him out of the top slot reveal a high degree of insensitivity at this moment. What the political class needs to do now is to ensure that the administrative machinery gets moving and helps citizens regain some sense of security and well-being.