- If the alliance government can fight off these attempts at toppling, Uddhav Thackeray will emerge as a major political player in India.
- And if he can control the spread of coronavirus despite the population density in Mumbai he will have an enviable track record.
Uddhav Thackeray, chief minister of Maharashtra, is currently battling the highly infectious coronavirus epidemic in his state, which has seen Mumbai, the capital, rapidly ratchet up to the top spot globally. Thackeray is also battling attempts by the BJP to topple his government in what BJP leaders boastfully refer to as “Operation Lotus”.
Thackeray has been enemy number 1 for Amit Shah, Union Home Minister, ever since he audaciously ended the two-decade alliance called “Maha Yuti” and switched partners to the Congress and NCP and formed the government last November.
Shah and Thackeray have a visceral personal dislike of each other. Thackeray, a very talented photographer and an extremely well-mannered, soft spoken politician, has disdain for the tough talking Shah, who has no time for political courtesies.
One would wonder at the BJP’s priorities of trying to play politics in the time of a pandemic. But those who do, have clearly not witnessed Shah’s political appetite. Coupled with Shah is an odd cast of characters, which would give Bollywood a run for its money. Leading them is India’s canniest politician Sharad Pawar, the chief of the NCP, who ensures that his own right hand does not know what the left is doing; former BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who can’t seem to stand his ‘former’ tag and is engaged in 24/7 politics against Thackeray; and Ajit Pawar, nephew of Pawar, who wants to shed his dependence on uncle and become chief minister, having decided that deputy to the chief minister is not his cup of tea.
There is also the Congress party and its leader Rahul Gandhi, who did not want to ally with the Shiv Sena and went public last week that he and his party were merely supporting the Thackeray government and were not decision makers. The Congress, which once ruled Maharashtra, is now a fringe third player and yet has 12 ministers in the Thackeray government. Historically, wherever the Congress has become a third player in any state, it has not been able to recover power.
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To add to Thackeray’s twin battle with the virus and the BJP is also railway minister Piyush Goyal under whose watch 80 destitute migrants have died in the relief trains. And strangely, trains also seem to unaccountably lose their way. Yet Goyal is not deterred by displays of his public incompetence and is waging a public battle against Thackeray.
So this varied cast of characters is currently playing hardball with each other, while the coronavirus rages in Mumbai, particularly in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum. Mumbai is the financial capital of India and Maharashtra an über industrialised rich state. The leader, who controls Mumbai, controls India’s top corporates who pay tax and other tributes to political parties here. The BMC, Mumbai’s municipal corporation, has an annual budget of Rupees 33,441 crore budget. These mind boggling figures of money is what the real fight is all about.
The ugly power politics has ensured several political slugfests, with Fadnavis sneering that he and the BJP can pull down the alliance government anytime, and the Sena retorting that the state visit of US President Donald Trump in February and the public events held in Gujarat by Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought coronavirus to India. The Sena leader Sanjay Raut also said the virus travelled with the US delegation to Mumbai and Delhi.
This is newbie Thackeray’s first job as an administrator and before coronavirus struck he was handling it with competence. So much so that he was the concerted target of the BJP, which has tried every trick in the book to bring him down. The tame Panna Pramukhs in the media communalised the death of two sadhus in Palghar on April 22. Thackeray had to debunk the communal line with massive effort.
Pawar is currently giving mixed signals as the BJP has upped the ante in wooing him, offering him the plum post of President of India and a berth for daughter Supriya Sule in the Modi Cabinet. Simultaneously, the central investigative agencies Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate are also being pressed into action against NCP leaders. This is persuasion Shah-style.
If the alliance government can fight off these attempts at toppling, Uddhav Thackeray will emerge as a major political player in India. And if he can control the spread of coronavirus despite the population density in Mumbai he will have an enviable track record.
Otherwise, the war machine of the BJP will bookend the coronavirus pandemic with pulling down two Opposition governments. The Congress government was pulled down in Madhya Pradesh in March when chief minister Kamalnath resigned and now the BJP is eyeing Maharashtra.
Amazing focus. When the only thing that matters is political power.