In Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray Completes a Year of Trial by Fire

It has been a coming of age for Thackeray as someone who has never been a part of electoral politics himself.

5 min read
Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray.

Uddhav Thackeray has come through a trial by fire multiple times in his year in the office of chief minister of Maharashtra. Rarely has a new chief minister not been accorded a honeymoon period the way Thackeray wasn't. Perhaps it was the manner in which he came to office – defying not just the odds but also the electoral numbers.

He should actually have been playing a contented second fiddle to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but hours after last October's Assembly results, when the numbers did not co-operate with the BJP, he decided that he would not settle for less than an equal share in government.

It was bold, even audacious to break from an ally of over a quarter century and drop them at the 11th hour after going to polls on a common ticket. But Thackeray pulled off the impossible and has not been forgiven for it ever since.

Former chief ministers Devendra Fadnavis, who he displaced from office, and Narayan Rane, who had had to quit the Shiv Sena because of his differences with Thackeray years ago, have kept up a relentless harangue against the Maharashtra chief minister on social media and elsewhere but to little avail.

They have been calling Thackeray and his son Aaditya names, even personalising the battle between the duo with BJP President JP Nadda exhorting his party to dig up the failures of his government. But there has been more heat and little substance so far.

Attacks on Thackeray

In the midst of the first lockdown, the chief minister seemed to have made a grievous error by not taking swift action against the lynching of two saffron-clad Sadhus in Palghar who were mistaken by villagers for thieves and child lifters. But once the investigation did go through, the discovery of BJP office bearers among the lynch mob and the arrests of some of them swiftly put paid to that campaign.

Then came the suicide of actor Sushant Singh Rajput which was given the colour of murder by Thackeray's rivals and the younger Thackeray even targeted for his personal association with some Bollywood personalities.

But over months of investigation, there was no evidence to either prove a murder or link the Thackerays to the same and his rivals have run out of steam on that one, too.

Perhaps, the arrest of a television anchor could be labelled as vendetta for keeping the pressure up on the Thackerays, but in view of the fact that the anchor was not arrested for his journalism but his own alleged abetment of suicide, according to a note left behind by the victim, was less convincing of Thackeray's alleged complicity in the so-called vengeful act of the arrest. More so, since there have been multiple arrests of journalists across the country for less reason than a case of abetment of suicide.

Thackeray has an understated demeanour and is very different from both his father Bal Thackeray and cousin Raj Thackeray.

So he chose not to rave and rant and bore all attacks in silence – until his party's annual Dussehra gathering a month ago in October wherein he threw down the gauntlet to all his detractors – catch me if you can and dislodge me from office if you have the guts.

He asserted that no one has been able to unearth any misdemeanour against him because there has been none to uncover and that has somewhat silenced those detractors.

Perhaps Uddhav Thackeray indeed got lucky for that very reason – there was really not much occasion for a misstep.


Handling the COVID Crisis

Soon after he came to office in November 2019, he was faced with his own portion of the coronavirus crisis plaguing the world and while Maharashtra and Mumbai have been no worse off than other states across the country, the Maharashtra government managed the migrant workers crisis much better than most other states, providing them shelter and rations.

Thackeray during those months surprised many even hardcore rivals with his sanguinity and prompt responses. After a false start with bureaucrats and police officers put in place by the previous regime, Thackeray swiftly learnt the ropes bringing about a change in attitudes.

The usual friction of any coalition exists between the three allies in government (Shiv Sena, the NCP  and the Congress) and Thackeray is under tremendous pressure from both the state opposition (the BJP) and the Maharashtra governor who loses no opportunity to needle Thackeray and provoke his government.

Last month, there was a war of words between Thackeray and Bhagat Singh Koshiyari over the continued closure of temples in Maharashtra with the governor even going one step more than necessary to ask if Uddhav Thackeray had given up his Hindutva for secularism.

Maintaining the Peace

Indeed, the most remarkable development has been that Thackeray actually apologised in the Maharashtra Assembly for his party having mixed religion with politics over the past decades and that is a transformation not acceptable to many.

It seemed in the beginning that Thackeray would not be able to reconcile the past with the present, but he seems to be set on a path of redefining his party’s commitment to Hinduism as an all-inclusive nationalism rather than mere religious communalism.

So far, he has managed to maintain the peace and hold the government together.

His perceived failures are more in the nature of allegations by various rivals than actual political or administrative failures.

Then, whether it has been the COVID crisis or a major day-long grid failure in Mumbai in the middle of monsoon, there has been nothing that has not been swiftly corrected, leaving his detractors looking rather too eager to hang, draw and quarter Uddhav Thackeray.

It is a rare feat for a novice in the office of chief minister but he has had plenty of help, particularly from NCP Chief Sharad Pawar who denies he is the government's remote control but has been largely accepted as the government's adviser.

Uddhav Thackeray listens to the sound advice coming his way and that is why he is doing much better than many other chief ministers.

It has been a coming of age for someone who had never been a part of electoral politics himself and had every reason to fail in government. That he hasn't is a credit to him as well as the people of Maharashtra.

(Sujata Anandan is a journalist, and author of `Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever', 'Maharashtra Maximus: The state, its people & politics' and tweets @sujataanandan. This is a an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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