Uddhav Thackeray braves winter, will summer be as kind?
CM Thackeray seems to have surprised his detractors with his tit-for-tat political parlays during the winter session; it remains to be seen if he can be a good policymaker and administrator
It will be premature to assess Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray as an administrator and policy maker, but in his first-ever legislative session in Nagpur he has made an impression, that he will take head-on the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Opposition's political bid of cutting him a sorry figure. Thackeray came to the winter session with the handicap of zero experience in transacting legislative business. When he was accused of not following legislative norms, he defused criticism admitting that he was still learning the process and swiftly switched to attacking the BJP through playing-to-the-gallery speeches. If we take out the verbal exchange between Thackeray and ex-CM Devendra Fadnavis from the Nagpur session, there was nothing else to write about.
BJP kept hammering its anti-Sena agenda throughout the session. It attempted to project that the Sena had breached the people's trust and mandate to go with the election ally by entering into an 'unholy' alliance with the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party who sat in the treasury benches under the banner of Maha Vikas Aghadi. It challenged Thackeray's Hindutva over a pact with secular parties and the Savarkar issue, and also probed the frenemy's nationalism over the Citizenship Amendment Act. Sena had already invited Congress's ire by voting for CAB in the Lok Sabha and later did some risk management through a symbolic gesture of abstaining from voting in the Rajya Sabha. It was a balancing act, which not only gained the Sena some Hindutva points, but also saved it a showdown with the Congress, which has been trying to tell the world that it would have Sena's saffron DNA under control by holding the on-off switch to the MVA. Essentially, the BJP has been trying to create a rift between the Sena and Congress. In the Savarkar controversy, Sena outsmarted BJP by posing some uncomfortable questions that have gone unanswered in the past, too.
When countrywide protests over CAA reached Maharashtra and warranted intervention from the government, Thackeray reiterated his stand that didn't vary much from the BJP's. He said that some people had misunderstood the CAA provisions and inferred that they would be driven out from their homes and the country. He assured safety and government's support to the people who harbour the fear of getting disowned. Soothing words, and yet Thackeray hasn't given BJP any more ammunition to bombard him over CAA. He hasn't yet bowed down to the Congress that wants him to officially declare that Maharashtra would discard the new legislation. Thackeray has simply shifted the state's focus to the courts that would decide CAA's constitutional sanctity. This should disappoint the Congress.
Thackeray said the CAA was misunderstood after he had drawn a parallel between the police action against Jamia students and the Jallianwala Baug massacre. His strong statement had prompted NCP boss Sharad Pawar to say happily that the words of Thackeray should prove that the MVA was moving on the right track. What will Pawar say when Thackeray supplements BJP? What will the Congress do if Thackeray refuses to toe a liberal-secular line? Pull out or stay put?
A popular sentiment across the parties in the winter session was that the MVA would not break up because of ideological differences, but go down to the internal clashes between the bigwigs and overpowering interference of a certain mega leader in matters of governance and policymaking. And, the fall should happen as and when Thackeray asserts himself and rubs self-proclaimed puppeteers the wrong way. Senior bureaucrats who have been working with Thackeray haven't formed a firm opinion of him yet but they find him a good learner who surprises very experienced ministers with sharp questions and value addition of inputs that the participants don't expect of him considering his Mumbaiyya grooming.
Nagpur has given Thackeray an encouraging start. He seemed to have learned that making mere speeches may win votes, but won't run a government. He would want to skipper the ship but compulsions of coalition wouldn't let him do it all the time, especially when non-playing captains would want it diverted their way. It's a voyage that has been diagnosed with a 'longevity syndrome' since the moment it took off.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to email@example.com
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