Is the Fadnavis-Thackeray friendship over?
The Sena rarely targeted Fadnavis personally even when it pulled no punches taking on the BJP and its top leadersmumbai Updated: May 18, 2017 23:59 IST
Trouble could be brewing between chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and his main ally, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. The two have always been cordial towards each other despite the trouble between their parties. The Sena rarely targeted Fadnavis personally, even when it pulled no punches to take on the BJP and its top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah. For his part, Fadnavis was always mindful of Thackeray’s sensibilities, even when his partymen were not.
However, developments in the past few days show things might be changing. It began with the Sena targeting Fadnavis’ pet scheme, the Jalyukta Shivar Yojna, under which water conservation projects are implemented in villages across Maharashtra to reduce farmers’ dependability on the monsoon. The scheme is now at the centre of allegations of corruption in its implementation. In an unusual gesture, Thackeray himself targeted the scheme. “Robbers have sneaked into the project,” he remarked bitterly, while speaking at a public meeting last week. Senior Sena minister Ramdas Kadam has been publicly criticising the scheme and making allegations of irregularities in it.
If that is not enough, the Sena has also started putting pressure on the Fadnavis government to announce a farm loan waiver — a tricky subject for Fadnavis considering his government’s weak finances and the Centre’s unwillingness to provide funds to write off farmers’ loans of more than Rs30,000 crore. Thackeray himself will launch a campaign by addressing a rally at Nashik on Friday. The Sena has also declared Thackeray will lead a march to the legislature in Mumbai in July when the monsoon session is held.
On Wednesday, the Sena’s ministers in the government wrote a letter to Fadnavis opposing the state cabinet’s decision to hike in stamp duty on conveyance deeds and gift deeds. The Sena argued that the decision — aimed at increasing revenue — would hit the middle class.
The Sena had called a truce with the BJP after the latter supported it unconditionally to win power in the Mumbai civic body in February this year and Thackeray attended a meeting of the National Democratic Alliance hosted by Modi. However, it has now turned out to be a brief lull with the Sena getting more and more aggressive, with indications that the `political understanding’ between Fadnavis and Thackeray is more or less over.
So, what has gone wrong again?
“The basic reason is that both the parties share mostly the same voter base except in Mumbai where the Sena is limited to the Marathi votebank. It is inevitable that the two parties will contest the next assembly elections separately. The Sena is worried that its base will shrink if it continues to play second fiddle to the BJP,” says a senior BJP minister, on condition of anonymity.
Further, the Sena leadership is wary of the BJP’s plans. It suspects the BJP is waiting for the right time to either engineer a defection of its MLAs or dissolve the assembly to call early elections. As such, it is trying to create a negative atmosphere against the government whenever possible. If certain sections like the farmers are angry with the government, the BJP will reconsider its adventurous moves, feels the Sena top brass.
A Sena minister also said the Opposition Congress-NCP’s campaign for a farm loan waiver is getting some response. “The farm loan waiver was originally our demand. Now, if the Opposition is taking it across the state and the state government is not keen to consider, we have no option but to raise it again. That way, we will also get some opposition space, which may come in handy in the next assembly elections,” he said.
The coming days will probably see the Sena leadership getting more aggressive against the BJP governments in the state and at the Centre. So far the BJP’s response has been cautious. The party is also looking at the Sena’s votes it would need for the presidential elections to be held in July.
However, the relations between the two parties have again become shaky and there is no guarantee the BJP will remain patient for very long. In the past two years, it was the personal friendship or understanding between Fadnavis and Thackeray that ensured stability in the government even as the two parties kept sparring. Both leaders knew and respected each other’s political compulsions and were united on the need to keep the Congress-NCP out of power. In fact, it was at the behest of Fadnavis that the BJP decided to extend unconditional support to the Sena in the Mumbai civic body after he had led the party to an unprecedented 82 seats in the municipal corporation, just two less than the Sena.
So now if Thackeray is trying to corner Fadnavis, things may not remain the same.