Politics in the time of a pandemic

Updated: Apr 20, 2020, 07:32 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Behind the scenes of this unusual geniality among parties is a struggle to cash in on pandemic; also with MVA govt's 6 months ending soon, Guv in spotlight for reluctance to clear CM's name

Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray
Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray

Dharmendra JoreOn the surface, politics may have projected a picture of bonhomie between stakeholders, but in reality the political underbelly cannot afford to see all action ceased, even when the country is struggling to tame the pandemic. Unprecedented polarisation doesn't allow people to understand each other and as a result of bigotry, the critical problems complicate situations further, instead of resolving them.

Maharashtra's dramatically evolved politics provides a fertile turf for the masters of the game. The Opposition and ruling parties do not appear to be on the same page in the crisis. The Opposition proposes something and the government disposes of it immediately. In some instances, the government has reviewed knee-jerk responses in accepting the Opposition's suggestions, like financial aid for construction workers. In some cases, the Opposition hasn't approved of the state's measures and demanded a completely reworked approach. For example, the changed testing parameters that the Opposition alleges the government is using for suppressing the number of COVID-19 patients.

There are many things the states, the non-BJP ones in particular, and the Centre, are saying against each other, directly or indirectly. Is it because frequent dialogue is not happening between them, or, is this vote bank politics? It seems the mudslinging will continue unabated in its murkier form even after we succeed in turning the tide against the pandemic.

Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray hasn't jumped on the bandwagon yet, but he has been subtle in dropping hints of disagreement, not with the central government, but mostly with BJP's state leadership, in his well-received webcast speeches. On the other hand, his party colleagues and Maha Vikas Aghadi partners don't shy away from politicising issues to fortify the CM against BJP's attacks as the COVID-19 curve refuses to flatten. Speculation and rumours have caused considerable damage to the pandemic management. The infection has assumed dangerous proportions in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and Pune, where the demand for isolation and quarantine beds, life-saving medical equipment, medical expertise, and above all, finances, has peaked. The situation is very disturbing for pandemic managers, who look up to their political masters every time they are in trouble.

Now, apparently busy in supervising crisis mitigation, are our state's political bosses, the CM in particular, devoid of any political worry? It doesn't look like it. Speculation of his government falling in the near future is circulating in political circles again.

In fact, it all started right after he took over. Thackeray has countered the speculation convincingly. The fresh projections of a fall are based on the efforts of stalling the CM's entry into the Legislative Council, for he must become a member of either house before May 26, when the unelected CM will complete six months in office. Failing this, he will have to resign and take oath again.

The state cabinet has suggested his name to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari for nomination to the upper house from the governor's quota. Koshyari hasn't yet responded to the suggestion made on April 6. The governor had rejected two similar recommendations made in December and is delaying this one, though the MVA expects him to consider the extraordinary circumstances under which the Election Commission postponed biennial elections to the upper house in Maharashtra and Bihar. In normal circumstances, Thackeray would have won the elections easily. The state cabinet's suggestion has also been challenged by a BJP worker in the Bombay High Court on constitutional grounds.

Koshyari's reluctance in clearing the CM's name is being understood as an extension of a political game – rather a conspiracy – by some Shiv Sena and MVA leaders. His role in making BJP's short-lived alliance government with Ajit Pawar was subjected to heavy criticism. The governor came on the MVA radar again recently, when he held meetings with state bureaucrats supervising the pandemic management. He was promptly accused of creating a parallel power centre in the state. NCP boss Sharad Pawar reported the governor to PM Modi. The CM's nomination issue came to the fore on Sunday when Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut launched a social media attack on Koshyari. "Raj Bhavan, the governor's house shouldn't become a centre for political conspiracy. Remember! History doesn't spare those who behave unconstitutionally," Raut tweeted. In another tweet, Raut also referred to 'shameless' governor Ram Lal. For the uninitiated, Ram Lal, the then governor of Andhra Pradesh, appointed finance minister N Baskar Rao as CM while the incumbent CM N T Rama Rao was hospitalised in the US. NTR created a political storm on his return following which the then President Giani Zail Singh dismissed Ram Lal. NTR took oath as CM three days later.

Leaving aside Raut's rant, some senior Sena leaders expected the Centre to tell the governor to clear Thackeray's name because dismissing the state's suggestion would invite public ire for disrupting governance. The leaders also expect the government to mend the 'cabinet's procedure of suggesting a name' that has been challenged in the high court because there is at least a month's time at hand. And of course, a lot depends how much Thackeray has been able to repair covertly the fracture that upset the Sena-BJP applecart six months ago.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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