In all probability, the term ‘remote control’ was coined by Balasaheb Thackeray when the Hindutva brotherhood of BJP and Shiv Sena was drawing its political sustenance from its persistent attacks on Congress governments in 1990s and during UPA-I and II. That’s a distant memory. The Sena patriarch is no more and the band of Hindutva brothers has disappeared into the wilderness of power-play.
The ‘remote control’ has stayed back; its users are now in opposite camps though, both talking of the Maratha pride.
In an interview on Friday, to a specific query on remote control, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray tersely said: “Running government through remote control is a separate thing. Here three parties are there (Shiv Sena, Congress and the NCP) and the government runs by coalition.”
Uddhav completed a year in office as head of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government on Friday. The CM told the media that the three constituents of the MVA would fight the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, due in 2022, jointly and that the MVA government would last its full term.
His remarks came amid a buzz that the Sena, being the largest party in the BMC, might choose to contest the polls on its own. The alliance partner NCP was quick to welcome Thackeray’s remarks.
The BMC is the country’s richest civic body. In the present House of 227, Sena has 96 members, BJP 82, Congress 30, NCP 8, SP 6, MIM 2, MNS (Raj Thackeray’s group) one, ABS (Gawli’s outfit) and one independent. Former CM Devendra Fadnavis of BJP has also spoken of ‘Mission Mumbai’ to wrest BMC from Sena.
A sad chapter
The first anniversary of the Thackeray government came as a rude reminder for Fadnavis whose three-day-old government with the support of NCP leader Ajit Pawar was unseated.
In the Maharashtra Assembly elections last year, the BJP had won 105 seats while the Sena secured 56 seats. The NCP and the Congress had won 54 and 44 seats respectively.
Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar took oath as CM and deputy CM respectively on this day last year after BJP and Shiv Sena that fought October Assembly polls together parted ways following differences over the chief ministerial post. However, the Fadnavis government lasted only 80 hours after Pawar returned to the NCP fold, tendering his resignation as deputy CM.
Later, Shiv Sena formed government in the state with the support of the NCP and the Congress.
A few days back, Fadnavis played down his oath ceremony as an incident “not worth remembering”, while asserting that the next swearing-in event will not be held at dawn as was the case a year ago if the MVA government in the state falls.
“If the present government in the state collapses, the oath ceremony will not take place at dawn. But such incidents need not be remembered,” the former CM was quoted as saying by PTI.
BJP lying in wait
At a time when the Uddhav Thackeray government is trying to contain the recent spike in coronavirus cases, a BJP minister’s remark created a flutter in the state political circles. Senior BJP leader and Union minister Raosaheb Danve on Novemebr 23 exuded confidence of forming government in Maharashtra in the next 2-3 months, asserting the party has already made preparations for it.
Danve’s remarks came during a meeting with BJP workers in Parbhani ahead of the next month’s Legislative Council election to Aurangabad Graduate constituency.
“BJP workers should not think that our government will not come into existence in Maharashtra. We will form a government in the next 2-3 months. We have worked out the mathematics. We are waiting for the ongoing elections (the Legislative Council) to get over,” the Jalna MP said while campaigning for Shirish Boralkar, BJP’s candidate for the MLC polls.
NCP aggressive with outreach
The NCP has taken a lead in decision making; its ministers hold regular ‘janata darbars’ where they meet common citizens and address their grievances. Neither the Shiv Sena nor Congress has asked their ministers to hold meetings for people the way NCP has been doing under the guidance of party chief Sharad Pawar.
The Shiv Sena, on the other hand, is busy battling the BJP as the former saffron ally has trained most of its guns on Thackeray’s party, be it in Sena-run municipal corporations like Mumbai or Mantralaya.
In September, the NCP engineered a split in the Sena unit in Ahmednagar district and inducted seven Sena municipal councilors into the party. A hurt Uddhav spoke to deputy CM Ajit Pawar, who reportedly had apparently blessed the entire operation, then sent the Sena councilors back to their original party. Recently, the NCP started a cell for the LGBT community, thus becoming the first political party to do so in the country.
Missing in action is the Congress as neither its ministers nor its party organisation has been able to make much impact despite being in power for almost a year now. Very few Congress leaders like party general secretary and spokesman Sachin Sawant are battling to create a positive perception of the party and take on the BJP; most others are silent observers or mere bystanders.
The good thing about Uddhav in the last year is: so far, so good. He has stood up to the BJP activist-Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari and deflected sharp criticism of its erstwhile ally, the BJP. Among his achievements are developing Raigad district and a farm loan waiver up to Rs 2 lakh crore.
“We don’t make announcements of doubling and tripling farmers’ income or say achhe din aayenge (good times will come),” he said in an interaction with the media on November 27. He has also kept up the state’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic despite severe administrative constraints.
His key task lies in keeping the competitive aspirations of his allies in harmony with governance, a task laden with serious challenges. In July this year, NCP chief Sharad Pawar denied that he is either the “remote control” or the “headmaster” of the MVA government amid a buzz that Pawar has been directing Thackeray from behind the curtains and running the government.
In an interview to Sena mouthpiece Saamana, an unprecedented event, Pawar also claimed that Bal Thackeray did not have the functioning style and ideology similar to the BJP. “The functioning style of Balasaheb, whom I have known, was different from the ideology of the BJP. He respected the leaders including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Pramod Mahajan,” he said.
“Through respect, the idea of forming the government came forward. Secondly, the Shiv Sena had struggles with the Congress but it was never permanent, I think. Shiv Sena was never at loggerheads with the Congress,” he added.
Given the Maratha strongman’s refreshing words, Uddhav can take some solace, but he will have to carefully watch the local NCP’s moves as much as the stratagems of the BJP. The next few months will test his political and administrative acumen.