Uddhav Thackeray takes oath at packed Shivaji Park
Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray took oath as the 19th chief minister of Maharashtra at a packed ceremony in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park on Thursday, bringing the curtain down on over a month of political uncertainty that saw a rival government collapse barely 80 hours after a dramatic swearing-in ceremony.
Dressed in a silk kurta, the 59-year-old Thackeray, the first in the powerful family to hold a constitutional post, stepped on stage and bowed to the crowd, touching his hands and head on the floor to express his gratitude to the people. He then invoked his father Bal Thackeray, who founded the party on the same spot in 1966.
“This government is for all people,” he said after chairing the first cabinet meeting of the three-party Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi comprising the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress.
He also announced the first decision of his government -- Rs 20 crore to conserve legendary Maratha king Chatrapati Shivaji’s capital at the Raigad Fort – and said a comprehensive relief package for farmers was in the works.
Along with Thackeray, six ministers – two from each party – took oath but their portfolios were not specified: Sena’s Eknath Shinde and Subhash Desai, NCP’s Jayant Patil and Chhagan Bhujbal, and Congress’ Balasaheb Thorat and Nitin Raut. The government has to prove its majority on the floor of the assembly by December 3.
Suspense also remained over the fate of senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar, who stunned his party on Saturday by breaking ranks and backing the Bharatiya Janata Party, only to find himself isolated. He was forced to resign on Tuesday and return . The NCP, which has been allotted the deputy chief minister’s post, has not made its choice public.
As Thackeray took oath, a number of political leaders congratulated him, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. I am confident he will work diligently for the bright future of Maharashtra,” Modi tweeted. Defence minister Rajnath Singh also wished him the best. “I hope he will work towards fulfilling the people’s aspirations and take Maharashtra forward,” Singh said.
The ceremony was a virtual show-of-strength for opposition parties with a number of prominent leaders present, including Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief MK Stalin and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and senior leader Rahul Gandhi were not present but wrote to Thackeray.
“Shiv Sena, NCP and the Congress have come together under quite extraordinary circumstances at a time when the country faces unprecedented threats from the BJP,” Sonia Gandhi’s letter said.
Also present on stage were prominent industrialist Mukesh Ambani, his wife Tina, and Thackeray’s cousin Raj Thackeray. Many other opposition leaders sent messages congratulating Thackeray. “Congratulations and best wishes to Shri Uddhav Thackeray ji on being sworn in as the chief minister of Maharashtra,” tweeted Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
The first lot of ministers in Thackeray’s cabinet had four members from the influential Maratha community — Shinde, Desai, Thorat and Patil – that makes up roughly a fourth of the state’s population. The Congress brought in a Dalit face by including Raut, and the NCP gave representation to the Other Backward Class (OBC) in the cabinet with Bhujbal.
The ceremony capped political uncertainty that hung over the state after the October 21 assembly elections threw up a hung House, with the BJP winning 105 seats, the Sena 56, the NCP 54 and the Congress 44. Independents and smaller parties have 29 seats.
On November 12, governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari clamped President’s Rule on Maharashtra after telling the Centre that no party was in a position to form government. By then, three parties – the BJP, Sena and NCP – had failed to cobble together a majority within the prescribed deadline.
After weeks of talks and hammering out a common programme, the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance appeared set to stake its claim last Friday. But the BJP dramatically upset their plans. At 5.47am on Saturday, President’s Rule was withdrawn, and a new government sworn in before 8am with Fadnavis as chief minister and Ajit Pawar as his deputy. But by evening, Ajit’s uncle Sharad Pawar had thrown his weight behind the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance and launched a frenetic attempt to win back legislators.
On Tuesday, when the Supreme Court ordered a floor test by 5pm the next day, Ajit only had a handful of supporters left with him and it was clear he didn’t have the numbers. Hours after the top court verdict, he resigned. A few hours later, Fadnavis followed suit, clearing the decks for the first chief minister from the Thackeray family.