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'Uddhav will be a very reluctant chief minister'

By SAVERA R SOMESHWAR
Last updated on: November 27, 2019 07:50 IST

'This will be an Uddhav Thackeray government controlled by a remote now held by Sharad Pawar.'

Uddhav Thackeray

IMAGE: Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray will be Maharashtra's 24th chief minister and the first Thackeray to hold this post. Photograph: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters
 

Will Uddhav Thackeray, who has never tested his mettle in electoral waters, prove to be a good chief minister?

Will the 59-year-old Shiv Sena leader head a remote control government, with the power in the hands of wily Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar?

Will Uddhav regret his rift with the Bharatiya Janata Party?

Most importantly, will he rule Maharashtra for five years?

Vaibhav Purandare -- who has authored Shiv Sena -- The Sena Story, Bal Thackeray And The Rise Of The Shiv Sena and, most recently, Savarkar: The Story Of The Father Of Hindutva -- has been following the tumultuous political developments in Maharashtra with intense interest.

He shares his insights into the man who will be Maharashtra's 24th chief minister with Savera R Someshwar/Rediff.com.

Bal Thackeray never held an elected position neither has Uddhav Thackeray. What led him to change that stand and project himself as the chief minister of Maharashtra?

He is going to be a very reluctant chief minister.

He was not keen on taking up the post.

It was only after the Congress and NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) leaders made it clear they would not accept any other Sena leader as the chief minister that he has agreed to take up the post.

In the process, he has given up the remote control.

Doesn't this post need someone with administrative experience?

It does.

We'll have to see how Uddhav Thackeray goes about learning the ropes, how he learns by way of legislative experience and administrative experience.

And we will know that only once he assumes office.

He will have a very challenging Opposition leader in Devendra Fadnavis because Fadnavis knows the workings of the legislature and the bureaucracy extremely well.

Of course, he will have help from the Congress and NCP while running the administration, but it's not quite the same thing as walking your own path.

It will require complete trust and whether there will be trust between these three highly unnatural partners, we don't know.

Who do you think Uddhav will rely on in this in this journey he is taking on as chief minister?

At the moment, he seems to be relying completely on Sharad Pawar.

And I think he will continue to rely on Pawar and some of Pawar's close associates like Jayant Patil and Congress veterans like Balasaheb Thorat who have been long time legislators.

They know the rules and procedures of the House (the Vidhan Sabha), how cabinet meetings take place, how to deal with the bureaucracy, etc.

So, yes, he will have to rely heavily on the NCP. What that means is that he is relying on Sharad Pawar who will be calling the shots.

Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar

IMAGE: Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar address a press conference. Photograph: Sahil Salvi

Sharad Pawar is a wily, experienced politician. How will Uddhav ensure that the Sena government does not become a puppet in the NCP's hands?

I am not using the word puppet.

This will be a government controlled with a remote by Sharad Pawar. There's no doubt about it.

The three party alliance is Pawar's creation.

Without Pawar stepping in, it wouldn't have happened because the Congress leadership and the Sena leadership were not even on talking terms.

Pawar has the potential to run this or to unmake it. It is now his baby entirely.

We will have to wait and see if Uddhav comes into his own eventually.

Is this going to be a Sharad Pawar government or an Uddhav Thackeray government?

An Uddhav Thackeray government controlled by a remote now held by Sharad Pawar.

Within his own party, who will he rely on to ensure he is not being taken for a ride?

Within his party, he may rely on a veteran like Subhash Desai who he trusts.

Eknath Shinde, he may or may not rely on.

But more or less, the reliance is going to be external, on Pawar.

I don't think, within the party, he'll be relying on people too much. For some routine matters, yes. But for important matters which will ultimately decide the future of the government, it will be the NCP chief.

This tripartite rule is going to be a difficult path to navigate, with many demands and expectations. Does Uddhav have the necessary skills to negotiate this complicated path?

We'll only know once he takes over.

There are people who have done well even without any previous experience.

This terrain is going to be a challenge; it will be a tightrope walk.

Like you said, he has to contend with Opposition leaders like the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis. And he has to work with leaders like Chhagan Bhujbal, Jayant Patil, Prithviraj Chavan and Ashok Chavan who have decades of experience. It's also a matter of dealing with egos...

Of course, it's going to be a matter of dealing with egos. They are veterans and have rich legislative and administrative experience.

It's going to be a challenge for Uddhav which is why I'm saying he will rely on Pawar more because Pawar has the experience that beats the experience of all these veterans.

Uddhav will be the first among equals in this government and will we have to see if the others accept that, what kind of harmony or disharmony sets in and if there is any real unity within the coalition.

When you are forming a government, there is unity; once the government is formed, you don't know what is going to happen.

How Uddhav walks this tightrope remains to be seen.

What are Uddhav's strengths and weaknesses?

On public platforms, he's aggressive and speaks the Sena's strong language.

Othrwise, he is a quiet sort of a guy; that sobriety could be a strength.

I won't exactly call it a weakness but we'll have to see how he deals with, as you mentioned, the absence of any sort of legislative experience because he has not even been a corporator. And he is straight away becoming the CM.

Uddhav's personal life changed once when he took charge of the Sena. It will change once again after he becomes the chief minister. Is he doing this to pave the way for his son, Aaditya Thackeray?

That began much earlier when Aaditya was made to contest the elections; he is now an elected legislator.

This has more to do with forming the government.

Uddhav took a maximalist position and walked out of his alliance with the BJP.

Then, it was necessary to form a government to show that this could be done.

Now, Pawar has put him in position where he has to accept the chief ministership. This is a no-option chief ministership.

We have to see whether he likes it or not.

He would have much rather preferred if somebody else from the Sena had become the CM, somebody whom he trusts completely, of course.

There will be some happiness, of course, because it is the number one executive post in the state.

Do you see Aaditya becoming a minister in this government?

With Uddhav becoming chief minister, it will not be easy because it may be seen as nepotism.

I am sure though that he will be given some very good position; it could be head of a panel or it could be on a panel just for him to start getting legislative experience.

And, within a year or two, there may be something.

Uddhav took a risk when he parted ways with the BJP; Narendra Modi-Amit Shah don't give up easily and here they fought every inch of the way. What made him feel it was worth taking the risk?

My instinct is tells me he obviously thought that, with 105 MLAs, the BJP would have no option but to listen to him and allow the Sena to have its chief minister.

He took a very maximalist position right at the beginning. After that, it was very difficult to walk back.

It's not as if some grand strategy has come to fruition though it has worked out overall in his favour. We will have to wait and see if it ultimately works out in the Sena's favour because the terrain ahead is tricky.

Doing business with Pawar and Sonia Gandhi is not going to be easy.

There is absolutely no ideological compatibility. The Congress and the Sena don't trust each other. And Pawar, well, he has the remote so we'll have to see what he does.

Will his alliance with the NCP and Congress make Uddhav stronger or weaker in the long run?

It all depends on how long this government lasts.

If it does not last long, then he becomes a chief minister who couldn't stay in office and was unable to carry a tri-party coalition.

But if he does carry it for a decent amount of time, then it will be a different story.

It is a risk it's a risk he has decided to take after having burnt all bridges with the BJP. The BJP leadership made it clear that, this time, they weren't going to yield to him. He thought they would because they didn't have an option.

How will he explain the Sena's ideological drift from Hindutva to his cadre? Like you said, he is aligning with parties with whom he has no ideological commonality.

The explanation, with the spin, he has given is that the BJP promised things they did not deliver. Basically, he is saying, they are to blame.

He is also saying the state needs a stable government, the farmers need help, the three parties have a common minimum programme, etc.

The ultimate justification he is using is that he had promised Balasaheb (<em?his father Bal Thackeray).

What are the three things his government should concentrate on and why?

One, they should work together in harmony so that there is no immediate instability; the state can't afford another election though I think the people would not mind another election after all the drama they have seen.

Two, a government which does not know if it is going to last its full term and which has multiple parties runs the risk of trying to be populist. But the state has a huge debt and some amount of fiscal prudence would be necessary.

At the same time, Uddhav will certainly have to become a left-winger in terms of economic policy. He has already decided on that to a certain extent because he talking about the farmers and the Rs 10 thali.

He will also have to become a secularist.

Thirdly, they will have to concentrate on the fact that they are not perceived as having been simply power hungry and taken up this responsibility only for the spoils of office.

This is where probity and anti-corruption come in.

And they will have to be careful about nepotism too which you saw during the UPA2 and Congress-NCP 2 -- the Sena, too, is a dynastic party.

The Mumbai municipal election is due in 2022. Will the Sena contest those elections with the NCP and the Congress, a three-party front against the BJP?

That is wholly dependent on whether this government lasts until 2022.

If it does, then they will. If it doesn't, then who knows?

Looking at what has been happening over the past few days, we don't know what grouping we will see when we wake up in the morning.

2022 is far away. The BJP and Sena may be together again. You never know.

But if the BJP and Sena do indeed fight separately, and the Sena goes with the Congress, it will be a very interesting contest.

If Uddhav Thackeray fails, will it be the end of the Sena?

Uddhav has run a really big risk.

If he fails, the Sena will have an identity crisis, if not an existential one.

It has already given up its Hindutva, Ayodhya, Bharat Ratna for Savarkar and other planks. To go back to that will be a big challenge.

Keeping the morale of the rank and file going if this government doesn't last will be another big challenge. And the Sena is nothing without its rank and file.


Managing Editor Savera R Someshwar has covered politics for over 25 years. You can read her recent work at http://www.rediff.com/news/savera-someshwar.html
You can reach her at saveras@rediff.co.in

SAVERA R SOMESHWAR / Rediff.com
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