Two years of MVA govt: Uddhav Thackeray's baptism by fire

No Maharashtra chief minister before Uddhav Thackeray has faced so many challenges in so short a time

Maharashtra CM and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray
Maharashtra CM and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray

Dinkar Raikar

I have had the privilege of knowing all but two of the eighteen Chief Ministers since 1960. I did not cover as a journalist the first Chief Minister Y.B. Chavan and the second M.S. Kannamwar.

V.P. Naik was the third and the longest-serving chief minister (1963-1975, roughly 12 years) while Narayan Rane had the shortest tenure of about eight months. Vasantdada Patil and Sharad Pawar were both chief ministers four times each. S.B. Chavan and Vilasrao Deshmukh occupied the chief minister's office twice.

Uddhav Thackeray was a dark horse and was neither a member of the Legislative Assembly nor the Legislative Council. When he was chosen to lead the coalition, nobody honestly expected him to last too long. A large and complex state with the capital city being the commercial capital of the country and among the most populous, a man at the helm with no administrative experience was looked upon with doubt and scepticism.

But while he might not have had any experience of running a government, he had led Shiv Sena for years, which controlled the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation with its vast budget and responsibilities, besides several other civic bodies across the state. He, therefore, had a fair idea of the challenges and resources. The Sena also controlled trade unions in industries, five-star hotels, airlines and airports.

He would also have watched his father, late Balasaheb Thackeray, deal with senior political leaders, industrialists, Bollywood actors and other influential personalities. The experiences came in handy when he had to navigate the challenges of running a government as part of an unlikely coalition.

He had shown his political acumen in the early days by stalling transfer of 10 senior police officials by the Home Minister, leaving no doubt about who was the boss.

He has also followed the cabinet form of government in both letter and spirit. Under this mechanism, no minister takes important decisions without getting a nod from the cabinet. He has thus been able to avoid unnecessary controversies and friction between alliance partners. All ministers now have got around to say publicly that they would give their opinion on issues only after discussing it with the chief minister.

Weathering the political contradictions in the coalition and ensuring a working relationship with both NCP and Congress leaders must rank as a singular achievement. His transparent style and palpable honesty would have helped. He has also handled with equanimity the incessant pressure and political controversies kept alive by the leader of the opposition, Devendra Fadnavis, besides the arrest of former home minister Anil Deshmukh in an alleged money laundering case and the curious case of former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh who remained untraceable for months.

All past chief ministers of the state left behind their own legacies. Y.B. Chavan laid the foundation for grassroots democracy and the cooperative movement. V.P. Naik brought in the Green Revolution and fought hard to make Konkan Railway a reality. Vasantdada Patil encouraged private investment in education in rural Maharashtra. Sharad Pawar was the first chief minister to waive interest on farm loans while A.R. Antulay wrote off farm loans entirely. Devendra Fadnavis left behind the legacy of Jalyukta Shivar Yojana to address water scarcity in drought-prone villages. Uddhav needs to do something more tangible to leave a lasting legacy

It must be conceded that no chief minister before him faced so many challenges and endured so much. He had to weather major natural calamities of drought, cyclones, floods, torrential rains and the Corona pandemic. But each time he emerged unscathed because he did not succumb to pressure from any quarter and took his own decisions. He also set new standards by frequently addressing the people to explain reasons behind his decisions.

The upcoming municipal and Zilla Parishad elections will be a major test for him. Winning the BMC elections is also a political imperative. If he leads Shiv Sena and its allies to win, he would make the coalition even more stable than what it is.

(The writer is Coordinating Editor of Lokmat Group)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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