File image: Uddhav Thackeray
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray seems quite out of patience with the ways of the Opposition in the state. If it is not putting pressure on this government to reopen temples across Maharashtra, despite a continuing COVID-19 threat, it is making unfounded allegations of corruption against ministers in his Cabinet.
The latest contretemps concerns Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari who has once again jumped into issues of governance that should strictly not concern a constitutional head of state. Responding to the demands of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders that a two-day special session of the legislature be called to discuss the safety of women in Maharashtra, in view of the rape and death of a 34-year-old woman in Mumbai on September 10, the Governor wrote a letter to the Chief Minister adding his voice to the demand.
More than Koshiyari’s letter, it is Thackeray’s reply that is being talked about. In a polite, and nuanced four-page reply, which is even satirical at places, the Chief Minister made it clear that the Governor was exceeding his brief, and that governance was the job of the Chief Minister.
Further, Thackeray listed out the attacks on women in BJP-ruled states such as Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand (Koshyari’s home state), and Delhi where law and order is under the Union government, and pointed out that none of these states thought it necessary to call a special session to discuss the issue. “Since women’s security is a national issue, please urge the Centre to call a four-day special [Parliament] session, and we could discuss the Mumbai rape at that session,” Thackeray wrote in his letter.
Buoyed by Thackeray's snub to the Governor, Shiv Sena members have gone to town crowing about the Chief Minister putting Koshiyari's “hoshiyari" (cunning or cleverness) in place. Recently, Saamna, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, hit out at the BJP government at the Centre for using central agencies against the Maharashtra government.
While that kind of restrained (and passive) aggression is new to the Shiv Sainiks, the non-violent pugnacity of their leader has begun to appeal to the restless cadre. On August 24, the Maharashtra government arrested Union minister Narayan Rane for expressing desire to slap the Chief Minister. No such action was taken against who actually slapped then Union minister Sharad Pawar in 2011 — but then that was the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), not the Shiv Sena. The case against Rane would not stand and yet the arrest was made because Thackeray wanted to send a message to the cadre; and what gave the cadre satisfaction was that Rane’s bail required him do weekly visits to the local police station.
However, Thackeray’s understated style of functioning seems to get him what he wants. Earlier, as an ally of the BJP between 2014 and 2019, he prevented Rane's entry into the BJP. Rane’s political ostracising meant that he had to form his own political outfit and wait on the fringes for years.
In 2019 as the BJP was keen on a formal alliance with the Shiv Sena for the Lok Sabha elections, Thackeray insisted that BJP’s sitting MP Kirit Somaiya not be given a ticket to contest the polls. The condition was accepted with alacrity. Somaiya, who has been targeting Thackeray since the 2017 municipal polls which both the BJP and the Shiv Sena contested separately, is now targeting the Maha Vikas Aghadi government ever since its formation in 2019.
Of late, Somaiya has taken to social media to make allegations against some MVA ministers, particularly against Hasan Mushrif of the NCP, and Anil Parab of the Shiv Sena (who is considered a close acolyte of Thackeray).
On September 20, Somaiya was stopped at Karad from going to Kolhapur, where he was going purportedly to examine Mushrif's properties. Fearing a law and order situation, Somaiya was detained at his home in Mumbai. Simultaneously, Parab filed a Rs 100-crore criminal defamation suit against Somaiya in the Bombay High Court, challenging him to prove his allegations, or face action.
This is not the first time allegations have been made against a government or politicians in power. Most of the political leaders while in government ignore such allegations. However, the Shiv Sena is different —while it was not in power the party had an affinity towards taking the law into its own hands, but now that it is heading a government, the party cadre has been cautioned not to indulge in violence and jeopardise its government. In the process the Shiv Sena has turned to using the courts, the police and other constitutional institutions against its rivals. With this the Shiv Sena has turned a new leaf. As far as the cadre is concerned, they are happy if their leaders are getting an upper hand over their rivals.
Uddhav Thackeray has once again redefined his party, and merged its aggressive DNA with passive, peaceful responses. It is a new dimension for the Shiv Sena, and it might just work.
Sujata Anandan is a senior journalist and author.Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.