Eknath Shinde, ex-Urban Development Minister in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, has created political history in post-Independence India by unseating an entire political dynasty entrenched in power, the first episodic surprise in a string of many.
Shinde acted in concert with a few actors in the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) headed by ex-CM of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis who was partly in the foreground and, as many say, Union Home Minister Amit Shah under the watchful eyes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the background. The new Shiv Sena-BJP entente could mean the beginning of Uddhav Thackeray’s political autumn in the ascendancy of the summer of Hindutva.
In another “first”, a running government has been replaced on the fundamental basis of “Hindutva”. Another surprise was the sacrifice of the position of the Chief Minister by Devendra Fadnavis, in favour of Eknath Shinde, his subordinate in the previous BJP-Shiv Sena government.
Fadnavis went even further when he took the unprecedented decision of agreeing to be Shinde’s deputy on the request of his party’s top brass. The presence of Fadnavis has been strategically arranged to ensure that the Hindutva plank is reinforced and the various investigations of scandals taken to the logical conclusion going into the Assembly elections of Gujarat in December 2022 and the general elections of 2024.
The objective is to make sure that the absolute control of Shiv Sena is wrested decisively from a “secularizing” Uddhav. Therefore, it was required that Eknath Shinde be conferred the required seriousness and weight for the message to go across to Shiv Sainiks across the hierarchy. This was aimed at making a stronger case in the inevitable court battle that would ensue where the control of the Shiv Sena would be furiously contested.
Eknath Shinde, who led a rebellion of 40 Shiv Sena MLAs, was unequivocal and assertive about the compromises Uddhav Thackeray had allegedly been continually making on the agenda of “Hindutva”, a cornerstone of Shiv Sena’s very existence in Maharashtrian politics as espoused by its founder Bal Thackeray himself. The Shiv Sena MLAs complained of incrementally shrinking space for both Shiv Sainiks and their brand of politics in the state, even as the NCP and Congress expanded their political talons, reach and ideology, which had made political survival increasingly difficult. Another grouse was the acute, repeated and perennial l lack of access to and disrespectful treatment by CM Uddhav Thackeray.
On the other hand, the NCP and Congress were getting their various agenda sanctioned dutifully. It seemed as if Uddhav Thackeray was the Chief Minister, but the reins of power were in the hands of Sharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi. Uddhav had only himself to blame. The fact that he couldn’t see it coming was a study in misgovernance and lack of political astuteness. The rebel Shiv Sainiks took the wind out of Uddhav’s sails in the MLC elections. BJP won all 5 seats it contested, bagging 133-134 votes when it had just 106 MLAs. The MLC elections were preceded by the Rajya Sabha elections where BJP won 3 seats as against the expected two. Uddhav was caught napping.
Trouble for the Shiv Sena-BJP coalition, that was first forged in 1984 by Bal Thackeray, L.K. Advani and A.B. Vajpayee and lasted through the entire life of Balasaheb, started well before the 2019 general elections and Assembly elections in Maharashtra. Uddhav was adamant on a larger seat share, forcing Amit Shah to placate him on a visit to “Matoshree” in June 2018. Uddhav rubbed it in and didn’t allow Fadnavis to participate in the meeting. Post victory in the 2019 Assembly elections, Uddhav demanded the CM’s post, though the BJP possessed nearly twice the MLAs. BJP tried to form a government without Shiv Sena, but failed and the ill-fated MVA was thus born.
MVA was an unnatural alliance. The constituents were ideological adversaries. Balasaheb had openly expressed his derision both for Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar whom he had once called a “scoundrel”. But, Sanjay Raut, whose loud mouth and acerbic tongue has been held responsible for much of the bad blood between Shiv Sena and BJP, went on air to proclaim irrelevance of Balasaheb’s ideas from the 1990s. This was a nail in Shiv Sena’s own political coffin.
MVA’s misgovernance far exceeded the political blunders. Maharashtra accounted for 18% of the total cases, 28% of the total deaths from Covid. Fadnavis had alleged massive corruption in procurement of equipment for fighting Covid that involved overbilling. Covid mismanagement was partly responsible for Maharashtra’s massive debt of Rs 6.58 lakh crore in FY21, that spiked 14% y-o-y. In the same period, per capita income fell 1.52% to INR 1.93 lakh.
The electricity sector was in a shambles. Outstanding dues of the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company (MSEDC), as per reports in May 2022, were a whooping Rs 65,000 crore. Compounding troubles was a debt of Rs 45,440 crore, as per reports in September 2021. The agriculture sector was withering. There were 2,498 farmer suicides in 11 months of 2021. No wonder, Maharashtra, that led all states on FDI inflows, ranked third when Uddhav resigned, in humiliation.
Uddhav’s regime was also encircled by massive scandals. Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh’s serious charges of corruption against the then Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, dirty cop Sahin Waze’s reinstatement despite serious allegations against him, his audacity of planting an explosive-laden car outside Mukhesh Ambani’s home and then going on to kill an innocent man to pin the blame of the whole conspiracy on the victim, Minority Development Minister Nawad Malik’s arrest on allegations of money laundering and land grab in concert with the Dawood Ibrahim gang, Shiv Sainik and Transport Minister Anil Parab massive corruption charges, were noteworthy. Uddhav refused to remove both Deshmukh and Malik as Ministers despite the arrests.
The broad daylight murder of sadhus Kalpavrukshagiri and Sushilgiri in Palghar, the mysterious death of Sushant Singh Rajput, the consequent drug scandal and the conspiracy theories that seemed to lead all the way to the highest and mightiest of the incumbent power structure of Mumbai through a smokey, miasmic underworld of drug and sleaze, the demolition of Kangna Ranaut’s home by Mumbai municipality, Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV Arnab Goswami’s illegal arrest by AK-47 wielding cops headed by Sachin Waze, concoction of a fabricated “TRP rigging” case against Arnab, persecution of ordinary citizens like Sameet Thakkar, Sunaina Holey, Ketaki Chitale who were jailed for weeks over trifles like social media jokes and barbs. MVA was nothing if not a three-ring circus of disasters.
Revolt by the Eknath Shinde camp and the consequent government formation now yields hope that the pending developmental agenda would see a boost minus the rampant corruption. The first decision by the Eknath Shinde government has been to order the Mumbai Metro project car shed back to Aarey Colony, a project that had been stalled because of the contrived environmental concerns. Eknath Shinde has also attempted to show himself as a sensitive people-centric CM by ending an obtrusive protocol for the CM’s convoy. It’s an attempt to end Uddhav’s legacy and show that both his head and his heart are in the right place.
In the latest development, Uddhav has moved the Supreme Court against the formation of the Eknath Shinde government itself. It’s going to be a long political and legal battle. It could be too little, too late. He has woken up now only to close the stable doors when most of his “horses” have already bolted to choose not just “fresh pastures” but also a “diet” of cultural Hindutva and nationalistic development that is more palatable to them as against the pukeworthy dose of “appeasement”. He’s in a very tough spot and could be in the process of writing his own political epitaph, unbeknownst to him.
Shashanka Shekhar Panda is a public policy strategist.
Eknath Shinde, who led a rebellion of Shiv Sena MLAs, was unequivocal and assertive about the compromises Uddhav Thackeray had allegedly been continually making on the agenda of ‘Hindutva’, a cornerstone of Shiv Sena’s very existence in Maharashtrian politics as espoused by its founder Bal Thackeray himself. The Shiv Sena MLAs complained of incrementally shrinking space for both Shiv Sainiks and their brand of politics in the state, even as the NCP and Congress expanded their political talons, reach and ideology, which had made political survival increasingly difficult.