Politics overshadows governance as Shinde Sarkar completes a year in office
Though comfortably placed to form the government after the 2019 Assembly elections, the undivided Shiv Sena and BJP ended their decades-long ties over the CM’s post.
Bitter non-stop wrangling with the Uddhav Thackeray-led outfit and intermittent exchanges between the ruling partners have stood out as the Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra, steered by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, completes a year in office on Friday.
The Sena and Shiv Sena (UBT) labelled each other “gaddar” (traitor) after Shinde’s rebellion split their original party last year, while Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis publicly asserted he had exacted “revenge” on Thackeray for his “betrayal”.
Though comfortably placed to form the government after the 2019 Assembly elections, the undivided Shiv Sena and BJP ended their decades-long ties over the CM’s post. Thackeray then allied with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress to become the CM until Shinde toppled his cart.
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About 50 MLAs on his side, Shinde took oath on June 30, 2022, and Fadnavis, a former chief minister whose party BJP has 105 legislators in the 288-member Assembly, became his deputy in what was seen as an unprecedented move..
Behind the wide grins and bonhomie on camera between Shinde and Fadnavis, there have been palpable signs of strain, triggered by words and ads, as the ruling alliance gears up to celebrate its first anniversary of being in power.
The goings-on have left little room for doubt that politics has overshadowed governance in these months, though the government moved quickly to speed up a few infrastructure projects, including Metro lines in Mumbai.
In the Kalyan Lok Sabha constituency, local BJP leaders targeted the CM’s son and two-term MP Shrikant Shinde, bringing to the fore the simmering tension between the Shiv Sena and BJP.
Later, an advertisement splashed across major dailies claiming that Shinde enjoyed more popularity than Fadnavis added fuel to the fire. It did not have the pictures of either Fadnavis or Shiv Sena founder late Bal Thackeray.
BJP Member of Parliament Anil Bonde appeared more direct. He said a frog does not become an elephant even if it swells, in a reference to Shinde, prompting a Shiv Sena MLA to hit back, saying the former's ministers could find a place in the cabinet only because of his party's "50 tigers".
After a year of the Shinde Sarkar (government), there are more areas that can potentially create bad blood between Shiv Sena and BJP.
The state cabinet is yet to be expanded – it now has only 20 ministers, including the CM and his deputy, though it can have a maximum of 43 members.
There are no ministers of state and each cabinet minister handles many portfolios apart from being the guardian minister of several districts. There is no woman yet in the council of ministers in the state.
Considering that the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls are just a year away, it is likely to leave ministerial aspirants more anxious.
The first sign of uneasy relations between the allies was visible when BJP leader Chandrakant Patil said that their party workers had accepted the decision to make Shinde the CM with a heavy heart.
Later, BJP state president Chandrashekar Bawankule apparently said in a party meeting that they would contest in about 240 seats and the Shinde-led Shiv Sena would fight in 48 constituencies in the 2024 Assembly polls.
The decision to appoint a special police commissioner for Mumbai was seen as another sore point between Shinde and Fadnavis. The special police commissioner, Deven Bharati, is considered close to Fadnavis. Along with Vivek Phansalkar, who is the Mumbai police commissioner, it was the first time the country's financial capital had two police commissioners.
Among the first set of decisions taken by this alliance was the reversal of the Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government's move to shift the Metro car shed from Aarey Milk Colony to Kanjurmarg in Mumbai. It also expedited the resolution of issues related to land acquisition for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train project.
The government restarted the pension scheme for those jailed during the Emergency which the MVA government had stopped.
Similarly, the completion of two phases of the Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi Corridor and the work on the 22-km-long Mumbai Trans Harbor Link (MTHL) project, connecting Sewri in Mumbai with Nhava Sheva in Navi Mumbai, are being billed as success stories scripted by the Shinde government.
A dedicated ministry for ‘divayangjan’ (differently abled) has been one of the initiatives of this government, while it offered a 50 per cent concession for women on buses run by public transporter Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC). Since the launch of the scheme in March, about 4 crore women have availed of the concession on MSRTC bus fares.
It also extended free travel to senior citizens on MSRTC buses and about 3 crore bus users have benefited from this scheme in the past three months.
On the health front, the coverage under the Mahatma Jyotirao Phule Jan Arogya Yojana has been increased from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh.
The government has also taken up the concretisation of 400 km of roads in Mumbai.
In the electoral field, the MVA put up a spirited fight to win two legislative council polls and handed a setback to the Sena-BJP alliance by helping the Congress wrest the Kasba Assembly seat in Pune in the bye-election.
Amid the almost-daily mudslinging between the two Senas, the Supreme Court in May this year put the ball in the court of the Assembly Speaker for a decision on pleas seeking the disqualification of 16 rebel Shiv Sena MLAs.
The exchanges between the MVA, particularly the Thackeray-led group, and the ruling partners are expected to turn more vitriolic ahead of the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in 2024 and the much-delayed local body elections expected to be held later this year.
The government has already approved the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe “irregularities” worth Rs 12,024 crore in various works of the Mumbai civic body flagged by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
On its part, the Shiv Sena (UBT) has planned to organise a morcha outside the Mumbai municipal corporation on July 1 against “irregularities” in its functioning.