Endless challenges for Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray
Ever since chief minister (CM) Uddhav Thackeray took up the job, his government has been stumbling from one crisis to another. Three-and-a-half months into his tenure, Maharashtra was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. For the second year in a row, a tired Thackeray government is battling the raging pandemic. With Supreme Court striking down the quota for Maratha community on Wednesday, Thackeray now has fresh crisis to deal with.
Sixteen months into office, Thackeray has battled on various fronts including tackling Covid-19 outbreak with empty coffers, natural calamity, political crisis leading to resignation of two cabinet ministers. The tussle with Maharashtra Raj Bhavan played out elaborately last year with Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari not recommending Thackeray to the Upper House of the state Legislature to keep his chief ministership; ultimately, forcing him to dial Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The strong opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is getting more aggressive and he’s under constant threat of MLAs being poached by BJP. Besides this, Thackeray is dealing with a hostile government at the Centre, but he’s carefully manoeuvring through it without antagonising those in power in New Delhi.
Maharashtra continues to be the most-affected state due to Covid-19 outbreak. While the state government somehow managed to tackle the epidemic in the first wave, the second wave has become a bigger problem with more than 50,000-60,000 cases being reported daily along with a high number of deaths. While Thackeray government is battling with the massive second wave with limited resources, the vaccination too is not taking off well due to shortage in supply of vaccine.
On the other hand, Antilia bomb scare-Sachin Vaze episode followed by allegations and resignation of home minister Anil Deshmukh has damaged the reputation of the Thackeray government. Earlier, Shiv Sena minister Sanjay Rathod had to quit his post after his name was linked to the suicide of a young woman in Pune.
Before he took over as chief minister in November 2019, Thackeray had no experience in handling the administration. As such, his ability is put to test in every crisis for which he is getting appreciation and also brickbats.
Political analysts say the onset of health crisis in early days of his chief ministership made it easier for him to strengthen his government. He compensated his lack of administrative experience with emotional connect with the people of the state, they add.
Surendra Jondhale, political analyst and former professor of political science at Mumbai University, said Thackeray was sailing the troubled water right since the outset, adding that his initial challenge was to consolidate, strengthen and keep his flock together. “His initial task was to see there is no in-fighting or internal friction, because he was dealing with two ideologically opposite parties.”
Political analyst Prakash Bal said, “He had only led a political party and had absolutely no experience in running the state government. Within three months of him coming to power, Covid-19 outbreak shut down the state and nation. But if you look at the larger view and compare it with CMs of neighbouring Karnataka and Gujarat, Maharashtra has done well under him. The state and Mumbai have dealt with the pandemic well so far.”
According to Jondhale, the two strengths of Thackeray as CM were his “resilience” and the move to “establish a dialogue with the people”. “Covid-19 has been testing for Thackeray, but his resilience and his addresses to the state have helped him establish a dialogue with the people and build a rapport. He would tell everybody the challenges and give solutions. If the Centre is not giving vaccines or oxygen, he would tell it to the people,” he said.
The political challenges faced by Thackeray and the three-party government have damaged the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi’s (MVA) reputation.
Allegations of crime against a woman forced Thackeray to seek resignation of Rathod in February-end. Subsequently, allegations against NCP minister Anil Deshmukh rattled MVA. Many Sena leaders privately maintain that the Rathod and Deshmukh crisis should have been managed better by the MVA and the party.
Jondhale said, “From the point of view of the voter, the allegations against Rathod and Deshmukh were not unheard of. People have seen and heard what happened in the BJP government with Chikki scam, allegations Prakash Mehta, etc. These allegations definitely cast a negative shadow but nothing politically detrimental which would lead to a collapse.”
Both Jondhale and Bal added that Thackeray had the able backing of NCP chief Sharad Pawar when MVA went through any crisis.
“Not just CM, but like family member”
Sena MP and chief spokesperson Arvind Sawant took a mythological reference from the epic Mahabharata and said Thackeray is not the one who will be caught in the chakravyuh. “Uddhav ji is not Abhimanyu who cannot escape the chakravyuh; he can break it. Natural calamity happened last year [Nisarg cyclone], Covid-19 outbreak happened, social issues erupted over the Maratha reservation issue and political crisis also came on him, but he has overcome them calmly and with patience... No CM has faced so many challenges one after another,” Sawant said.
He claimed Thackeray’s addresses to the people “inculcated calmness”.
“The manner in which he speaks to the people, they consider him a family member who is advising them. He just doesn’t advise but has the onus of delivering. He is the man who thought of building a field hospital when nobody in the country did. The man who was not in electoral politics, had never seen the Assembly house or a civic house, he is now steering Maharashtra,” Sawant added.
According to Bal, the BJP is making shrill noises on Covid-19 management but it is not backed with unrest among people. “Only BJP leaders are making a noise. Even when people were not getting hospital beds and oxygen, there was no negative atmosphere or sense of failure of the Thackeray government.”
The BJP, however, says Thackeray government is nothing but a complete failure.
Maharashtra BJP chief spokesperson Keshav Upadhye said there has been complete “lack of administrative leadership” in Maharashtra since November 2019. “This government does not have any kind of direction or will, consequences of which have to be borne by the people of Maharashtra. The Sena-led MVA government has given the people more than one reason to complain about its incompetence in dealing with crisis situations. It completely failed to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak last year. Maharashtra found itself reeling under the pandemic, un-kept promises to farmers affected due to unseasonal rainfall and cyclone, people facing electricity supply cuts for defaulting payment of hiked bills by the state’s power supplier, rising atrocities against women, the unresolved issue of reservation for OBCs and Marathas, the Sachin Vaze episode, etc,” he said.
If 2020 was a tough year for him, 2021 is going to be a bigger battle for the “accidental chief minister”.
As the state is still battling to control the second wave of Covid-19, there have been projections of a third wave towards the latter half of the year. Following which, Thackeray will gear up for his next major political challenge—the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation election in February 2022, in which the BJP will try to wrest control of India’s richest civic body that has been Sena’s source of strength for decades.