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'Uddhav is not reluctant, but a consummate politician'

By HEMANT WAJE
Last updated on: December 31, 2019 09:36 IST
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'He is as consummate a politician as anyone else which is evident considering the way in which he has placed his party and weeded out his rivals from within the party.'

IMAGE: Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray flanked by state ministers Jayant Patil, left, and Balasaheb Thorat, right, after the first cabinet meeting at the Sahyadri guest house in Mumbai, November 29, 2019. Photograph: PTI Photo

On December 28, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government completes a month in Maharashtra.

Considering the unusual alliance and pressure from the Bharatiya Janata Party, it seems a achievement of sort for the inexperienced but determined Uddhav.

"He is walking a tightrope. On one hand, he has to tackle the challenges of governance. On the other hand, he has to keep this very unlikely coalition together, " Dhaval Kulkarni, author of The Cousins Thackeray: Uddhav, Raj and the Shadow of their Senas, tells Rediff.com's Hemant Waje. The first of a two-part interview:

 

In your opinion, how long will the Uddhav Thackeray-led government survive?

Personally, I feel that no coalition of such disparate parties with divergent ideologies has run for a full term in India.

However, let us presume that this coalition holds for substantial amount of time.

We may see some a certain reorganisation of the political forces in India wherein regional parties can form a grand armada of Opposition parties to take on the BJP with the support of the Congress.

We must understand that in Maharashtra the only glue that is keeping the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress together is number one, the need to gain power and number two, more importantly, the desire to keep away the BJP.

Hence, it is very difficult to say for how long this government will run.

There are too many contradictions involved.

As head of the government, Uddhav Thackeray will have to walk a tightrope.

If this experiment succeeds, you may have a repeat of the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal governments of the 1960s where non-Congress forces came together to keep the Congress out of power.

So this experiment may happen in reverse in India.

Did anybody ever think it was possible that a Thackeray would become part of a government, forget becoming CM?

The Shiv Sena has crossed the Rubicon in more ways than one.

After all, politics is the art of the impossible.

Six months ago, if someone speculated that one day, when the BJP seemed invincible in Maharashtra, you may actually have Uddhav Thackeray as head of the government in the state in a coalition with the Congress and NCP, I think he would have been laughed at.

Politics is the art of achieving the impossible.

At the same time, we must also know that even before Uddhav Thackeray came anywhere into the picture as a chief minister nominee or even as chief minister, it was obvious that the first family of the Shiv Sena was not content in running only the party.

They were very eager to get a foot in or get some sort of a stake in the running of the government.

This was demonstrated when Aaditya Thackeray contested the assembly election from Worli, becoming the first from the Thackeray family to actually seek public office.

Was that a hint of things to come?

Maybe.

But again, no one saw this coming.

One has to admit that even the most astute political watchers, political pundits, did not see this coming.

No one ever thought that Uddhav Thackeray would ever become chief minister of Maharashtra.

But I would like to make a note that you know there are certain misnomers that get into politics that find a way into the political vocabulary or lexicon.

One of these misnomers, which is often repeated, is that Uddhav Thackeray is a reluctant politician.

There are several incidents which have shown that he is not a reluctant politician.

He is as consummate a politician as anyone else which is evident considering the way in which he has placed his party and weeded out his rivals from within the party.

This development wherein he has become chief minister further underlines that fact.

Videos: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Uddhav Thackeray is calm, not aggressive like his father Balasaheb Thackeray or cousin Raj Thackeray.

Comparisons are very odious.

Uddhav Thackeray is often compared with his father who was very aggressive, a fire and brimstone kind of speaker.

The same goes for his cousin who has a similar charisma like his uncle.

I personally feel these comparisons are wrong because everyone has his own individual personality and that again would be affirming some sort of toxic masculinity.

Uddhav has his own style.

His late father, even Raj, relied on their charisma to get the message across.

Uddhav -- since he perhaps doesn't have that element of oratory or that kind of charisma -- tried to go beyond that by strengthening the party organisation, taking the Shiv Sena beyond its traditional zones of influence in Mumbai, Thane and Konkan.

When Uddhav Thackeray became working president of the Shiv Sena, the party was an urban centric phenomenon. In the 1980s it grew in areas like Marathwada.

The Shiv Sena is essentially an urban centric phenomenon. Because it is a party which was born in a special set of circumstances when the Maharashtrians in Mumbai felt disempowered.

The Shiv Sena was born out of this disgruntlement, this angst.

Uddhav strengthned the party organisation and pushed the agenda to issues that were beyond the party's traditional agenda.

Like, for instance, he sought complete loan waivers for farmers. He took a very aggressive stance on this issue.

Why did Uddhav break the alliance with the BJP?

There are several reasons.

From what I've been able to gather, the BJP's refusal to acknowledge the alleged pact wherein the Shiv Sena and BJP would share the chief minister's position on a rotational basis was only the catalyst for the larger break-up.

There was growing sentiment in the Sena that the BJP nationwide has grown at the expense of its allies.

Be it with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party in Goa. Be it with the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam.

The BJP has traditionally grown at the expense of its allies.

Number two, we must understand that the Shiv Sena has a much wider social and political base then that of the BJP.

Contrary to popular perception, the Sena has a base in a section of the Muslim community, especially among Maharashtrian Muslims in the Konkan and parts of Western Maharashtra.

It has a huge base in sections of Dalits.

This is very unlike the BJP which even today is identified with a certain social category in Maharashtra.

In no other state do we have a situation where two political parties are competing for the same Hindutva vote base.

If the BJP has to grow beyond a point, it has to do so by cannibalising the Shiv Sena's social and political base.

Hence, this (Sena disenchantment with the BJP) was manifest before the Lok Sabha election.

Just after the 2014 (assembly) election the BJP tried to corner the Shiv Sena on seat sharing and suddenly broke off its alliance.

After the BJP came to power, the Shiv Sena was forced to play second fiddle.

From the party's point of view this was very humiliating.

Traditionally, the Shiv Sena has been the elder brother in the saffron alliance.

In the past five years, the BJP tried its best to unsettle the Sena, that's what Sena leaders claim.

Before the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Sena said, okay we will ally with the BJP.

The Sena expected that the party would get important portfolios in the Modi government. That did not happen.

Arvind Sawant was the Shiv Sena's lone representative in the government. He was given the heavy industries portfolio again, which the Sena wasn't happy with.

Again, during the (2019) assembly election, Sena leaders claim the BJP went out of its way to defeat Sena candidates.

Considering all this, pressure was building up. The chief minister's position only turned out to be some sort of catalyst or breaking point.

Uddhav Thackeray has zero administrative experience. Is it cause for worry?

Of course, it is cause for worry.

Typically, the Thackeray family has not controlled the administration. It has controlled the party.

When the Shiv Sena was in power in Maharashtra from 1995 to 1999 and from 2014 to 2019 no member of the Thackeray family has ever controlled the government.

We must understand that the Shiv Sena is not considered to be a party of governance or government.

Though it has been controlling the BMC (BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation) for almost three decades now, the Sena is not known for its quality of governance.

So there are challenges.

But again, as someone rightly pointed out to me the other day, Uddhav Thackeray has an advantage of beginning with a very clean slate.

Of course, the challenge is he has to contend with veterans from the Congress and NCP who have traditionally been the ruling class in Maharashtra. He will have a tough time dealing with them.

How good a CM will he be? What happens if he fails?

That is for time to tell.

Considering the breakneck speed in which things have happened over the past month or so, it's very difficult to predict.

So let's wait and watch.

We have to give him some time because he has only started.

He is trying to understand the state and the modes of governance.

We have to give him some time.

Will he be able to keep the Aghadi together for five years?

That is his biggest challenge.

Personally, I feel he is walking a tightrope.

On one hand, he has to tackle the challenges of governance.

He has to fulfill the promises given by his government which include complete loan waivers etc, which would be a drain on the exchequer.

On the other hand, he has to keep this very unlikely coalition together, which has absolutely nothing in common in terms of ideology.

A coalition born out of a sense of political expediency, whose only glue is the need to gain power and cling on to it while keeping the BJP out of the government.

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HEMANT WAJE / Rediff.com
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