Eye on Maharashtra: BJP and MNS consistently outwitted by the MVA Government, and how

The MVA Government in Maharashtra has consistently been outwitting the strident opposition led by the BJP and the MNS, writes Sujata Anandan

Raj Thackeray and Devendra Fadnavis
Raj Thackeray and Devendra Fadnavis
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Sujata Anandan

When Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari wrote to the chief minister suggesting that he should convene a two-day Assembly session to discuss women’s safety, he had not bargained for the reply he would receive.

While people and politicians alike chuckled at the brilliant repartee, this was not the first time the MVA government outwitted a hostile opposition and the Governor in recent times. On at least two other issues the state government turned the tables on the opposition.

With the festival season in full swing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have been agitating for the reopening of temples in the state and labelling the Shiv Sena, a former ally of the BJP, as anti-Hindu for Thackeray's continuing refusal to do so. ( The government on September 24 finally decided to reopen all places of worship from the first day of Navratri, October 7 but under strict conditions. There must be no crowding, safe distancing and sanitisation at all times. The responsibility for this rests with each temple/mosque/church administration and any place of worship could be shut down again if any norms violated).

Even the recent Ganpati celebrations were restricted by the government, with very few mandals allowed to put up community idols; public immersions were not allowed and the government provided large volumes of ammonium bicarbonate to housing societies to undertake dissolution of the idols in private ponds, bath tubs and buckets to prevent crowding at the seaside, lakes and rivers in smaller towns.

But with several local self-government elections due in the state in the next few months, including those to the prestigious Brihanmumbai, Nagpur and Nashik municipal corporations (the MNS has a huge stake in the last and Nashik is a temple town), the two opposition parties have been going hammer and tongs at the Maharashtra government. Although all places of worship, including mosques and churches remain closed, the state government was derided for being anti-Hindu.

Uddhav Thackeray in turn accused BJP and MNS of playing politics with lives of the people. The state is still battling the last leg of the second wave of Covid and while malls are still shut, restrictions continue against restaurants, wedding halls, shops, parks and other possible areas of crowding.

In a video conference with doctors, the CM said the state must guard against the third wave, given the spike in recent cases in Maharashtra and held out the example of Kerala, where Covid once again overwhelmed the people after relaxations for Eid and Onam. That should not happen in Maharashtra, he said.

“Festivals are important but lives of people matter more. If we do not show the patience now, this disease will dog our lives for years and more people will die than those visiting the temples.”

Labelled as anti-people, BJP leaders have gone into hiding on the issue, reports suggest some may even have travelled abroad to escape the opprobrium even as Thackeray accused them of holding crowded rallies that put people at risk.

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However, the other issue – that of reservations in LSG bodies – may not be so easily overcome. By virtue of the Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act of 1961, Maharashtra has had a 27 percent reservation for OBCs in these bodies for years. But in March this year, the Supreme Court read down the act and abolished the reservations rendering all those seats as open to all categories of people.

OBCs are a large chunk of the state’s population and there has already been much trouble between them and upper caste Marathas in recent years, with Marathas too agitating for reservations. Although the Devendra Fadnavis government did accord them a reservation, that decision too was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court as this reservation exceeded the ceiling for reservations in the country.

With all sections now agitated at the denial of their rights, Fadnavis has not been beyond fishing in troubled waters, agitating on behalf of the OBCs – though his parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is pretty pleased at the restoration of the seats to upper castes. If the LSG elections are held on schedule, starting in staggered fashion from November this year, it will be too soon for the Maharashtra government to do anything about it while it mulls over another law to restore the reservations.

Sharad Pawar has now stepped into the breach and declared that even if the government is unable to pass a law in time, his party would field only OBC candidates in the seats reserved for them before the Supreme Court judgment. If one party fields only OBCs, all parties are likely to follow suit and OBCs will have no cause to complain if they are contesting only against their own caste candidates. The declaration took the wind out of the sail of the opposition, salivating at the prospect of scoring political points.

Both Thackeray's and Pawar's deft dealing and political maturity have impressed their friends and foes alike. So much so that sections within the BJP have again begun talking about renewing the party’s alliance with the Shiv Sena. But that appears unlikely as Shiv Sena has a better deal in the Maha Vikas Aghadi than it could ever hope in a BJP-led government. BJP is unlikely to play second fiddle to the Shiv Sena or hand the reins of power to Thackeray or his party.

Meanwhile Devendra Fadnavis, with one step always stretched towards the CMO, finds the wait stretching longer.

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