Manohar Joshi, a Shiv Sena loyalist who excelled at consensus building | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Manohar Joshi, a Shiv Sena loyalist who excelled at consensus building

Feb 24, 2024 08:02 AM IST

A soft-spoken skilled political manager, Manohar Joshi was the perfect foil for the more charismatic and aggressive Bal Thackeray

MUMBAI; Former Maharashtra chief minister and Lok Sabha speaker Manohar Joshi who died in Mumbai at the age of 86, following a long illness, began his political career by ferrying around a young Bal Thackeray to various political meetings in his car. Eventually though, it was Joshi’s astuteness, ability to build political consensus and undying loyalty to the Shiv Sena founder that ensured his many successes.

Family and Relatives, with others, pay last respect to the mortal remains of the late former chief minister of Maharashtra Manohar Joshi, on Friday. (Bhushan Koyande/HT Photo)
Family and Relatives, with others, pay last respect to the mortal remains of the late former chief minister of Maharashtra Manohar Joshi, on Friday. (Bhushan Koyande/HT Photo)

The Maharashtrian Brahmin from Konkan first arrived in Mumbai to work as a teacher in a coaching class. From thereon he built his own multi-crore technical education institute before expanding into real estate and hospitality. A soft-spoken skilled political manager, Joshi was the perfect foil for the more charismatic and aggressive Bal Thackeray. Joshi emerged as a key player in the Shiv Sena’s control of the powerful Bombay Municipal Corporation in the early 70s, and he steadily rose through the ranks, becoming the mayor of Bombay then the leader of opposition in Maharashtra Assembly and crowning it with becoming chief minister of the first Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra in 1995. Even though his mentor Bal Thackeray publicly announced that the remote control of power in the state would remain in his hands, it was under Joshi’s stewardship as CM that the Shiv Sena managed to show that it can run a government.

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Despite his proximity to Thackeray, Manohar Joshi was not his first choice for chief minister. The Shiv Sena founder, riding high on the Hindutva wave following the demolition of Babri masjid, had wanted another colleague, the mild-mannered Sudhir Joshi, as CM but was warned that he may be unable to handle a strong ally like the BJP and the 32 independent MLAs who were supporting the alliance, recalled a senior Sena leader.

“It was probably a first of its kind government in Maharashtra in which the entire cabinet, including the chief minister, had never ever served in a government. All of us were handling the responsibility for the first time. It was only Manohar Joshi’s skill that ensured the smooth running and stability of the government,” said Eknath Khadse who served as finance and irrigation minister in Joshi’s cabinet. Khadse, then in the BJP, added: “We used to have differences but he was always open to our ideas and once they were accepted, he would stand behind us.”

To handle a tough ally like the BJP and a tougher boss like Thackeray required a tight-rope walk that he was quite adept at, says political analyst Pratap Asbe, even as his tenure as CM got mired in controversies. Corruption allegations raised by Anna Hazare followed by Justice BN Srikrishna’s scathing report on the 1992-’93 communal riots in Bombay, and the controversy over the Enron power project kept Joshi on his toes.

But it was also during his tenure as chief minister that Maharashtra saw the start of a major infra upgrade. His government started the construction of 55 flyovers in Mumbai, launched the Mumbai-Pune expressway, the Krishna Valley irrigation project and the controversial slum rehabilitation scheme.

Eventually, Joshi’s biggest challenge came from within his own party. The relations between him and Thackeray deteriorated within 3 years of him being appointed CM. The Lok Sabha elections in 1998 became a turning point for Joshi after Sharad Pawar (then in the Congress) cobbled up a coalition of opposition parties which won 38 out of 48 seats in Maharashtra. Thackeray, as well as the architect of the saffron combine, Pramod Mahajan, then felt the need to change the face of the government. BJP also convinced Thackeray that they needed a Maratha chief minister since the influential community seemed to prefer the Congress. This led to Thackeray replacing Joshi with Narayan Rane in February 1999.

Joshi chose loyalty over self-interest, and stepped down without demur. He was rewarded with a berth in the union cabinet in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, and became the Lok Sabha speaker following the death of then speaker GMC Balyogi in a helicopter crash. Subsequently, Joshi, who enjoyed an excellent relationship with the top leadership of the BJP, made a bid for the vice president’s post but was allegedly thwarted by Thackeray.

By 2012, Bal Thackeray was dead, and Joshi’s relationship with his heir, Uddhav, deteriorated, especially after he aired his views about the need for Uddhav Thackeray to mend fences with the BJP. In addition to being a master politician, a successful businessman, Manohar Joshi was also a prolific writer. He authored, among other books, a history of the Shiv Sena and a doctoral thesis on India’s Parliamentary tradition. With his death, the fractured Shiv Sena has also lost a loyal Sainik and Bal Thackeray’s last comrade.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Shailesh Gaikwad is political editor and heads the political bureau in Hindustan Times' Mumbai edition.In his career of over 20 years, he has covered Maharashtra politics, state government and urban governance issues.

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