MVA turns two: Challenges before CM Uddhav Thackeray
MVA, an unlikely coalition of three diverse parties, has put the spotlight on the state government on just one aspect: how will it survive the remaining three years of its tenure
Two years since it came to power, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government and the ruling party ministers have tackled a pandemic, an aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Opposition, and multiple investigations by Central and federal agencies. Two years after its formation, the Thackeray-led government must bring the state’s economy back on track and push infrastructure development. The Shiv Sena chief, who recently underwent a spine surgery and is currently recuperating, must also retain power in the upcoming Mumbai civic body elections, and also ensure a good performance by the ruling coalition in the other district council elections scheduled to take place next year. Political experts agreed that while Thackeray tackled the pandemic ably, and was a good team leader who managed senior leaders in the alliance pragmatically, a few key challenges face him and his government as they embark their third of the five-year term. Here are the CM’s main challenges.
Keeping the head above water
Maharashtra has the highest number of Covid cases in the country (on account of its population) but the state’s handling of the pandemic has been appreciated by Courts and citizens alike. Thackeray, in particular, was feted his regular addresses to the press to ensure that citizens knew exactly what was going on — and how the government was tackling things —during the hairy months of 2020 and 2021.
This may have come as a surprise given the coalition partners —Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress — were a motley crew when they first came together. The three parties came together to keep the BJP out of power in 2019, but since then, the 105-member Opposition party has not made it easy for the MVA.
The ruling coalition faces the challenge of keeping the government afloat as multiple raids by central agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Income-Tax (IT) Department and federal agencies like the Enforcement Directorate is likely to continue against some of its key leaders, including deputy CM Ajit Pawar, transport minister Anil Parab, and former home minister Anil Deshmukh (who resigned after the CBI launched a probe into allegations of corruption by him) among others.
The action by the central investigative agencies was to “dent the resolve” of the three parties, a senior Sena leader said.
Thackeray and Pawar have held several close door meetings each time the CM or the government came under fire. In the past few months, the alliance partners are also speaking in one voice on many issues, and more importantly, are not speaking against each other, political experts said.
Keeping the purse strings tight
The biggest challenge for Thackeray and his government is to help reel Maharashtra out of a financial crisis that has deepened due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The state government faced a revenue deficit of over ₹65,000 crore in 2020-21. However, the state has had a better year in terms of revenue in 2021-22 with over 40% collected in the first seven months of the financial year.
Analysts said that the “extended honeymoon period” for the MVA has government ended as the number of Covid-19 cases has seen as steady decline. Now, the MVA must deliver on its promise of focusing on governance. “The CM needs to work on a roadmap for development, which they were not been able to make, due to the pandemic,” said political analyst Hemant Desai.
The focus, Desai said, should be on farmers’ welfare and pushing irrigation projects. “The government also needs to create employment. Thackeray needs to take up the issue of farmers’ crop insurance as it benefits companies more than the farmers. The government is probing Jalyukt Shivar (a flagship water conservation scheme of the previous BJP-led government) due to allegations of irregularities, but they need to find an alternative to that scheme and resolve state’s agriculture and irrigation needs.”
“Uddhav Thackeray will have to tackle core issues: education, health, inflation, job creation. The state’s economy has to be revived and brought to at least the pre-Covid days. Maharashtra is one of the more urbanised states and industrial states, it will be easy to attract investments,” said Surendra Jondhale, a former professor of political science at Mumbai University.
Retaining political relevance
Retaining power in upcoming Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls — which has been ruled by his party for the past 25 years — is vital at a time when the Shiv Sena has broken away from its long-time ally, the BJP. Now, its political dominance is being challenged by its former ally. In an effort to attract more than his party’s traditional Marathi vote bank, the Sena chief has appealed to people to “unite and bury the division on the Marathi and non-Marathi lines.”
Other civic bodies are expected to go to polls early next year too, including Pune, Thane, Nagpur, Nashik, Navi Mumbai, and Aurangabad among others. Elections for over two dozen district councils will also be held and analysts are calling these local body elections a “mini Assembly poll” which could well turn into a referendum on the MVA government.
Analysts said that strong governance now would help Thackeray politically.
Though the Sena and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are keen to contest some civic body polls together, the leadership is yet to iron out the modalities of an alliance. Even though the ties between Thackeray and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar have deepened in the past two years, there is little love lost in the cadres of both parties, experts said.
If third MVA-partner Congress contests solo in all local body polls, as expected, it might split the north Indian votes in the city and dent BJP’s votes.
“Differences at the local level are bound to happen. We have fought against each other for decades. It has been only two years since this alliance came together. Besides, local leaders have political aspirations. Once the leadership decides on an alliance, there will not be any issue,” a senior party functionary, who did not wish to be named, said.
“Retaining the BMC and also winning new corporations like Pune Pimpri-Chinchwad, Nagpur will be a key to his party’s future. In this, his organisational acumen to mobile Shiv Sainiks will be tested. BJP will make all efforts to take on the Shiv Sena as they have not succeeded to topple the MVA government,” Jondhale said.
But Thackeray’s work is cut out for him. Not only will he need to ensure Sena’s victory in civic bodies but he will also be required to ensure that the MVA coalition does better than the BJP.