Virus multiplies, so does Maharashtra's politics

Updated: May 25, 2020, 07:20 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray indicates politics over COVID-19, supposedly involving the BJP, has multiplied in the state even as united Opposition prepares to attack Modi government

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray

Dharmendra JoreMultiplication has become a buzzword in the novel Coronavirus catastrophe. It is often used to describe the ups and downs in the spread of the virus and also used to show the intensity of the politics during the pandemic. In Sunday's address to the state, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said that though the virus hasn't multiplied much in Maharashtra so far, the coming weeks could see it grow more. He indicated that politics over COVID-19, supposedly involving the BJP, a principal Opposition party in the state and the ruling one at the Centre, had also multiplied. He stated that he would not respond in the same vein because saving lives was his priority.

And as he 'cautioned' the BJP to stay off him 'because the people of the state had strong faith in his government', the CM discussed a development that the BJP also sees as the Narendra Modi opponents' attempt to politicise the pandemic. Thackeray mentioned a virtual meeting of 22 non-BJP parties that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi presided over on Saturday to plan a joint attack against the Centre's handling of the health crisis and lockdown. The meeting finalised an 11-point charter of demands, with a cautionary note that "this is neither the time for the government at the Centre to indulge in showmanship nor one-upmanship".

Other than Thackeray, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, NCP president Sharad Pawar, former PM HD Deve Gowda and senior leaders from the Left parties joined the meeting. The Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Aam Aadmi Party skipped the meeting for their own political reasons.

Another event took place the day the Opposition met online. The Maharashtra BJP protested against the Thackeray government, heaping on its head charges of crisis mismanagement, policy paralysis and neglect of the common man, farmer and labourer, whose struggles would intensify in the coming days. It demanded a package of R50,000 crore from the Maha Vikas Aghadi government.

The event charged up a somewhat dull and locked-up political diaspora. In an ensuing cyber battle against the BJP, the MVA claimed a grand victory on Twitter and other social media platforms. The BJP countered the claim while asking people to 'Save Maharashtra' from the MAV, which in turn called the Opposition a traitor.

The two prominent events over the last weekend underlined that politics is as important for the parties, be it in crisis or a normal situation. Their demands remained somewhat the same, only the parties raising them changed. One event symbolised Thackeray's amalgamation with the Opposition force. The second saw the BJP taking a decisive step in attacking the Sena with which it shares a common political space. Its bid was an extension to show the Sena leadership and its MVA accomplices that they were lacking in governance – exactly the way a joint Opposition tried to paint the Modi government as 'villain de piece'.

The BJP has been trying to throw Thackeray and team out of Mantralaya ever since the MVA came into being six months ago, but without any success. A couple of days after Thackeray survived a legislature membership crisis, thanks to the BJP's top leadership, the Devendra Fadnavis-led state leaders have red-flagged the MVA over pandemic management.

They reached out to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari who prepared himself to redress and called the CM and senior bureaucrats to Raj Bhavan the very next day to discuss the Opposition's grievances. And, since he had accused the governor of creating an unwarranted parallel power centre, Thackeray skipped the meeting. The CM gave Koshyari a royal snub by telling his personal assistant Milind Narvekar to represent him at a review meeting. Later that night, the CMO clarified that the chief secretary represented the CM. On Saturday, a Sena MP and the governor's bitter critic, Sanjay Raut, visited Koshyari. Raut said the CM and governor were like the son and father and they respected each other. Interesting turn of events.

Raj Bhavan yet again
Now it has emerged that the governor has gone a step further in making Raj Bhavan independent of the CMO. The state's constitutional head, Koshyari, is reported to have moved a proposal to grant Raj Bhavan powers to appoint and administer its own staff like the high court and legislature establishments, instead of being under the control of the CM-headed General Administration Department. The Raj Bhavan has also sought to increase the governor's annual discretionary fund from R15 lakh to R5 crore. No decision has been taken on the demand yet but it has started a fresh battle between the governor and the government. One can't say definitely what will happen next. Intrigue, however, seems to be a lasting essence of the post-MVA politics.

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

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