Barely four months in their tenure, the Shinde Sena and Fadnavis allied government in Maharashtra, India, appears to be in trouble.
The heart of the crisis is the utter breakdown of trust between the two main actors Eknath Shinde, the Shiv Sena turncoat, and his deputy — Devendra Fadnavis, as mega projects worth billions go to poll-bound Gujarat from Maharashtra — the original destination.
Gujarat and Maharashtra have always had a streak of competitive sub-regional nationalism but, now as the Centre lavishes billion dollar job creating projects to Gujarat, where elections will be held soon, the opposition in Maharashtra is angry.
In four months Gujarat has bagged four projects — the Vedanta-Foxconn, the Tata-Airbus inaugurated on Sunday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a bulk drug manufacturing plant and a medical plant.
The cumulative value of these four projects runs in to billions and has enormous capacity to create employment. Maharashtra is India’s second most industrialised state (after Tamil Nadu) and Mumbai is India’s financial capital.
Uddhav Thackeray, Shiv Sena chief and Sharad Pawar, the chief of the National Congress party, claim a conspiracy is on to benefit Gujarat at the expense of Maharashtra and rob Mumbai of its shine. Shinde is now reduced to making repeated phone calls to Modi and a Mumbai based billionaire industrialist to be able to placate his Maharashtrian voter base.
Thackeray who had the rug yanked out on his chief ministership is still extremely popular in Maharashtra as people see him as a man wronged by his own. Shinde was in talks with the BJP when Thackeray was in hospital having a serious back surgery.
Thackeray’s straight talk during Covid endeared him to Maharashtra despite the fact that he had zero administrative experience when he took over.
Now as the big battle of the Brihanmumbai civic elections, which has a budget of ₹ 40 thousand crores, looms the opposition has found a new script — ‘the sons of the soil’ — the Marathi “manoos” being wronged at the hands of powerful parochial leaders.
The BJP has ensured that the dates of the polls are not yet announced. The plan is to announce them post the Gujarat results to take advantage of the winning momentum.
However, as stories grow of the trouble between the two partners, the Shinde Sarkar seems wobbly. A section of Shinde defectors now want to go back to Thackeray, seeing no future with Shinde who has not exactly proved assertive in front of his deputy Fadnavis.
For all practical purposes, the government is run by Fadnavis with officials and ministers taking orders from him. Shinde faction MLAs claim that the officials treat them with disdain and stall their projects.
Shinde spends most of his time trying to get more of India Inc to invest in Maharashtra — a Herculean task as capital vends its way to Gujarat.
Nitin Gadkari, the union minister of highways and roads, did his best to ensure that the Tata Airbus project come to Nagpur. He is member of parliament from there but, eventually it headed to Gujarat.
Unemployment is a huge issue in Maharashtra and is sure to find resonance among the voters. Meanwhile, Fadnavis makes no secret of the fact that he is impatient for the Shinde faction to merge in to the BJP, which he feels is a natural corollary of the Shinde rebellion.
An insecure CM
An insecure Shinde is using state machinery to mount surveillance on his MLAs who he feels are having secret negotiations with the BJP.
After the Vedanta-Foxconn deal was announced, the opposition led by Thackeray pounced on the Shinde-BJP government, saying they were subordinating Maharashtra’s interests to Gujarat.
A red-faced Shinde had then given a public assurance saying that Modi had promised him a billion dollar project for Maharashtra. Unfortunately for Shinde, the Tata-Airbus project he was counting on was also awarded to Gujarat.
So how long will the alliance continue? Sources say reports of its demise are premature but, also point out that the government has not been able to make a mark.
Senior leaders told me that the daily tantrums of the two men in charge had annoyed the top leadership of the BJP and they were unhappy at the immaturity displayed by Fadnavis who was expected to be the experienced big brother in the alliance and government.
All of these issues will find a resonance in the BMC elections with the Thackeray-led Sena having a new narrative of victimhood for the family and Maharashtra.
Thackeray will project himself as the leader who fights for Marathi pride. And his allies NCP and Congress are also on the same page.
When Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra reaches Maharashtra, the three parties will make a show of unity with senior leaders expected to join Gandhi on his marathon walk.
The Thackeray family is expected to get a sympathetic hearing from Maharashtra. Watch this space post the BMC elections for the fireworks.