CM Uddhav Thackeray and Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil defeating BJP’s attempt to sow discord within MVA

BJP leaders made a fool of themselves by claiming that Shiv Sena and NCP might swap the offices of chief minister and home minister

CM Uddhav Thackeray and Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil defeating BJP’s attempt to sow discord within MVA

Rahi Bhide

Urban Development, Home and Revenue are the most coveted of all ministries in Maharashtra. Those holding these departments are considered just a notch below the Chief Minister or Deputy Chief Minister, presuming these two individuals do not simultaneously hold any of these three posts.

This was always the case since the formation of Maharashtra but, of late, along with many other states, the Home department seems to have become more important than even the chief minister’s office. And that is now a source of some conflict between the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party with the Bharatiya Janata Party doing its best to set one against the other.

However, the sanguinity and unflappability of both Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil is papering over the differences and defeating the BJP’s attempt to drive a wedge between the two parties.

In this, of course, the BJP is leaving no stone unturned to sow discord within the MVA. The party knows well how difficult it is when there are two centres of power within the state from its experience of governing in alliance with the Shiv Sena.

In 1995, the chief minister’s job had gone to Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena and while Gopinath Munde was sworn in as deputy chief minister, the BJP did not wish to play second fiddle and hence the overtly clever Pramod Mahajan, who was then BJP general secretary, had demanded the handing over of the Home department to his brother-in-law Munde.

Prior to this the Home department was always retained by the chief minister who worked in close co-ordinationwith one or more ministers of state for home. But between 1995 and 1999, Joshi proved far too sophisticated for the rural politician that Munde was and he ended up becoming the butt of jokes among the city’s police force.

When the Congress and NCP came to power in 1999, Sharad Pawar who had been chief minister and simultaneous home minister on more than one occasion, insisted that the Sena-BJP arrangement continue because no one knew better than him how much more significant the office of the home minister was in Maharashtra.

However, then both chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and deputy chief minister cum home minister Chhagan Bhujbal were equally matched and together they sought to arrest Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray for inciting the riots of 1992-93. However, in those years of terrorism, bomb blasts and other unlawful activities, Bhujbal’s growing influence over the police force of Maharashtra came as an unpleasant surprise to Pawar who decided to bifurcate the offices of deputy chief minister and home minister and hand them to two different persons to prevent any one of them growing more powerful than Pawar would himself care for.

The city’s police force, however, had a merry time playing one against the other and now there were three power centres - one in the Congress and two in the NCP. This arrangement and subsequent inability of any minister to rein in the rogue policemen because of conflicting orders is said to be directly responsible for the current decline of the Mumbai police force.

Knowing this well when the BJP returned to power in 2014, Devendra Fadnavis decided to keep the home department with himself. But in the hands of an unsavoury politician, it also led to all sorts of malpractices as is now evidenced in the phone tapping case, the Parambir Singh-Sachin Vaze imbroglio or even the deliberate fixing of innocents in the Bhima-Koregaon case of 2018.

Given the enormous influence the Home minister wields, Sharad Pawar was always content to give up the chief minister’s office for the home department even when his party won more seats than the Congress and even now is content in a similar arrangement with the Shiv Sena.

However, the BJP is playing some mischief of its own by spreading rumours that Uddhav Thackeray is unhappy with the slow pace of investigation and action against BJP leaders like Kirit Somaiya and Narayan Rane and with some angry statements from Sena MP Sanjay Raut-- under fire from central agencies-- about the slow investigation, these rumours have added fuel to the fire.

But BJP leaders Chandrakant Bawankule and Sudhir Mungantiwar in their eagerness to facilitate Fadnavis’s return to power prove rather foolish in stating that the Sena and the NCP might swap the offices of chief minister and home minister. They forget how much Pawar values the home department above the office of the chief minister or that the MVA is in power precisely because the Shiv Sena would not give up its claim to the office of the chief minister while in alliance with the BJP.

It is true that the Shiv Sena, including Uddhav Thackeray, believes that the NCP is going slow on the cases against BJP men. But it is equally true that Pawar and the NCP who have far more experience of governance would hot wish any hastily taken action to be overturned by the courts. And unlike the BJP at the Centre, the Maharashtra home minister is proceeding cautiously within the frame work of the law and the Constitution. To taunts from Fadnavis, Walse Patil has promised to reveal all the BJP’s unsavoury truths in good time hut has not been unduly offensive or foul-mouthed as some BJP leaders have been.

The chief minister and the home minister have now closed ranks with Thackeray saying he has full faith in his colleagues and Walse Patil cautioning against hasty aggression that could prove counterproductive.

Where does the Congress fit into all this? Happy to have the third significant department of Revenue and going about its business quietly. Meanwhile, there are more rumours-- that it is now Ajit Pawar who desires to be home minister.

Is he likely to get the job? He knows his uncle only too well to hope for any concentration of power in his sole hands - he is already deputy chief minister and finance minister of Maharashtra. That is once again the BJP trying to sow discord in the Pawar clan. But once bitten, the Pawars, NCP and Shiv Sena are doubly wary of the BJP. Fadnavis will have to seek other avenues to realise his ambition.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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