Accidental to 'Samvedansheel': Critics Turned Admirers in Uddhav's Stormy Tenure

Despite a long list of controversies, Shiv Sena's worst critics will remember Uddhav Thackeray as an unbiased CM.

6 min read
Hindi Female

Ten days after he was released from a rigorous house arrest of eight months over the abrogation of Article 370, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah put out a one-line tweet on 5 April 2020, which said: "#UddhavThackeray has been a revelation."

The J&K National Conference leader and his party have historically been the strongest critics of the Shiv Sena, but Abdullah's tweet was one of the few signs of what Uddhav Thackeray had been able to achieve within four months of taking over as the chief minister of Maharashtra in November 2019.

"Samvedansheel Mukhyamantri!" (a sensitive chief minister) is how Thackeray was described by many, including his critics and allies, on 29 June 2022, shortly after his resignation. The term samvedansheel, which one does not usually associate a Shiv Sainik with, given the party's controversial past, was used to describe Thackeray, the man who heralded the party until recently.

As he announced his resignation in a 15-minute-long emotional address, Thackeray called himself an "accidental and unexpected" CM and listed the achievements of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance, while lauding the state's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and communal issues.

When he forged the 'unnatural alliance' in 2019 with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), there were obvious doubts. He was a man who had not held any administrative post, never set foot in the Maharashtra Vidhan Bhavan, and never fought an election.

When he joined hands with the Shiv Sena's 'natural opponents' in 2019, many believed that it would be Sharad Pawar running the show, with Thackeray being the mere face. That, however, turned out to be a severely premature assumption.

Within the first few months of his tenure, it was clear that Thackeray was steering the Shiv Sena in a direction different from what his father Balasaheb Thackeray had thought of it to be. Even the worst critics of the Shiv Sena noticed and welcomed the change, often dubbing it as 'Secular Sena', even as Thackeray repeatedly claimed to have not abandoned Hindutva.

Here's a closer look at his tenure's hits, misses, and controversies.


The Hits

Within a month of taking over, the Thackeray government's first announcement was to waive agricultural loans up to Rs 2 lakh pending till 30 September 2019, under the newly announced Jyotirao Phule scheme. Amounting to over Rs 20,000 crore, the scheme provided relief to scores of debt-ridden farmers across the state and was widely appreciated.

However, barely a few months into his tenure, Thackeray faced the toughest challenge – the COVID-induced lockdown and the spread of the pandemic in the state, with consistently high numbers. Thackeray's weekly briefings for several months of tackling the pandemic were appreciated by many and helped him connect with the people of the state directly. The results were visible, with not just Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly appreciating the state's management of the pandemic, but also the World Health Organization (WHO) taking a note of the COVID management in Mumbai's Dharavi, which many thought could have become the biggest cluster of the country.

In addition to COVID, the government's handling of communal issues – be it the absence of hate crimes or communal riots – was appreciated. The government also took pride in its handling of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Many have pointed out how the anti-CAA protests in Maharashtra were largely peaceful, compared to several other states, including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka.

In his final speech on Wednesday night, Uddhav, too, claimed that there had been no communal violence during his tenure and that the Muslim community should also be "thanked for keeping ant-CAA protests peaceful in the state."

However, the murder of two Hindu priests in Palghar did draw a lot of flak for the MVA government.

Accepting the demands of climate activists, Uddhav halted the construction of the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz metro 3 corridor's car-shed in Mumbai's Aarey colony. His government also designated the Aarey colony as a reserve forest.


The Misses and the Controversies

The list of controversies in Thackeray's tenure is long.

Within a few months of coming to power, the Thackeray government faced the challenge of handling the Sushant Singh Rajput's suicide case in June 2020 that took the nation by storm. Though then home minister Anil Deshmukh was the first to order a probe into a possible 'foul play' in the actor's death and the Mumbai Police had declared it a suicide, the Centre gave in to the larger sentiment of a CBI probe in order to score a political point. The MVA was accused by the Opposition of trying to shield drug mafias in Mumbai and conducting a hasty probe. Two years on, the CBI is yet to conclude the probe, a fact that several MVA leaders keep taking jibes at.

In February 2021, the Maha Vikas Aghadi faced a bigger challenge with the Sachin Vaze-Param Bir Singh controversy. Former top cop Sachin Vaze, believed to be a frequent at Matoshree in his younger days, is accused of planting an explosives-laden SUV outside the Mumbai residence of Mukesh Ambani in February last year.

However, in the run-up to these accusations, the Devendra Fadnavis-led campaign against the MVA on the matter severely dented its reputation – from Shiv Sena publicly defending Vaze, the cop eventually getting arrested, the counter accusations against then Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh, Singh eventually being fired by the MVA, and the matter reaching the Supreme Court, with Singh accusing Deshmukh of corruption. The entire episode was a royal mess and kept the MVA and the Shiv Sena in the headlines for all the wrong reasons for months.

Soon after the fallout over the Sachin Vaze controversy, former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh accused former home minister Anil Deshmukh of asking police officers to collect Rs 100 crore from bars and restaurants in Mumbai. The CBI and the ED filed cases against Deshmukh in the following months, and after several summons, court hearings, and investigations, Deshmukh was arrested on 1 November 2021.


In October 2021, Maharashtra minister and NCP leader Nawab Malik began to raise questions about the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB's) case against Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan. Malik levelled several allegations against the probing officer Sameer Wankhede, including discrepancies in his appointment under a reserved category. While the controversy severely dented the credibility of the case and the NCB, Aryan Khan was given a clean chit in May this year, citing lack of evidence.

However, many pointed out that Malik took on Wankhede also because his own son-in-law was being probed by the NCB in a drugs case. On 23 February, Nawab Malik was arrested in a money-laundering case by the ED and continues to be in jail.

On the administrative front, the MVA's relationship with Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari was largely dysfunctional. From straight jibes at the governor in party mouthpiece 'Saamana' to open letters over administrative issues, the Sena targeted him and accused him of being 'political' under the BJP's pressure on several occasions, including the latest hearing in the Supreme Court against the floor test.

In September 2020, Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut's verbal spat with actor Kangana Ranaut escalated, with a part of the actor's Mumbai home being demolished, alleging 'illegal encroachment.' Thackeray was dragged into the episode with many alleging abuse of state machinery to settle personal scores by the Sena.

The MVA faced similar criticism in the cases against actors Ketaki Chitale and Navneet Rana.


The Thackeray Who Was the CM

When Thackeray left the official CM's residence 'Varsha' last week, it struck a chord with the Shiv Sainiks. While many were seen chanting slogans in his support outside Matoshree as he arrived with his family, several others wept and cried betrayal by the Shinde camp across TV channels.

As a Shiv Sena chief, Thackeray always commanded a generational bond and loyalty among the party cadre, though it remains to be seen if he can wrestle it back from Shinde in due time. But as the former chief minister of Maharashtra, he now commands the reputation of an able statesman that goes beyond the Shiv Sainiks, with the reactions of scores of critics echoing similar sentiments.

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Topics:  Uddhav Thackeray 

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