Two years of MVA govt: The present and future tense
With the state facing paucity of funds, welfare schemes and infrastructure investment have been hit badly, giving rise to negative sentiments in rural areas
In 2012, after Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray's death, political pundits predicted the swift disintegration of the Sena. The executive president would not be able to handle even inner-party politics, they believed. But this week he completes two years in office as Chief Minister of Maharashtra, confounding the critics.
After Thackeray senior’s death in 2012, Uddhav projected himself as an active member of the Sena but carefully avoided calling himself 'party supremo'. No one, including him, could fill the shoes of his father, who formed the party in 1966, he signalled.
During the first Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government during 1995-99, Balasaheb Thackeray was fond of boasting that he had the remote control of the government in his hand (‘the moment I think the chief minister is not working for the people, I would eject it’).
He never took up a position of power, even though his party ruled the Mumbai civic body for years, ruled Maharashtra between 1995 and 1999 and was part of the successive NDA governments at the Centre headed by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But his son today heads the MVA government in the state.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Uddhav launched several government initiatives —he made huge budgetary provisions in the budget to strengthen the health infrastructure. He also launched several initiatives to tackle the pandemic like ‘My Family, My Responsibility’ and ‘My Village’ campaigns.
He has displayed that he has the acumen to handle a complex coalition of three parties, even though uncertainties still exist. Two years during the pandemic is too short a time to judge his administrative skills. But that he shows promise cannot be denied.
Uddhav Thackeray has tackled attacks by the BJP and the Union Government on his family, the Shiv Sena and the government sensibly and with sensitivity. With the help of central agencies, BJP tried to frame Udhav Thackeray's son and cabinet minister Aditya Thackeray in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. But the father and son duo didn't react in haste.
The coming days will see many more challenges coming in the way of the MVA government. The economy is in a bad shape and there is paucity of funds in the post-pandemic period. Welfare schemes and building infrastructure will be impacted. They may well create a negative sentiment against the government in rural areas, where subsidies and welfare schemes matter more than cities. There is unhappiness among the NCP-Congress MLAs as both parties have strong bases in rural areas.
The state was also badly affected due to the disaster in Konkan and flooding in Marathwada and Western Maharashtra. The unrest among the people is due to insufficient aid, as many farmers who lost their farms and farm produce in the flood and cyclone didn't get sufficient help from the government.
Currently, the major issue is of state transport employees on strike. Despite assurances from the government, the strike is continuing. The government failed to intervene early enough and allowed the opposition to hijackthe issue.
Reservation for the Maratha Community and OBCs reservation are also yet to be sorted out. And opposition is blaming the government for it and succeeded in building the perception that the government had failed.
A wounded opposition for any government is a threat. Devendra Fadnavis has already gone on the offensive. With not much hope of help from the Centre, Thackeray’s skills as politician and administrator will be put to test. And not to be forgotten, he will have to do a balancing act of keeping the allies happy.
Veteran journalist Prakash Akolkar says the chief minister enjoys a groundswell of goodwill for his handling of the pandemic. "During Covid pandemic he made an appeal to the citizens on Facebook live. It was like the big brother advising you. Many appreciated his initiatives. They were made to feel Uddhav Thackeray was a member of their family."
Officials barring a few are also appreciative and say the chief minister is a good listener and gives everyone a patient hearing. But one can scarcely underestimate the challenges he faces.
(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)