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Interview With Kumar Ketkar

Interview With Kumar Ketkar

Uddhav will go out of way to help the farmers: Congress MP

The recent political developments in Maharashtra on the issue of government formation have left everyone stunned. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray who assumed the office of Chief Minister on November 28 is leading a coalition that includes the NCP and Congress, long-standing foes of the Sena once. For Sena, it is a golden opportunity to rule the state of Maharashtra. Also, it has perhaps for the first time adopted secularism as its instrument of political power.

Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to Kumar Ketkar, Congress MP in Rajya Sabha, on the realignment of political forces in Maharashtra and its impact on the national politics.  Ketkar is a journalist and a writer. He is the Chief Editor of Dainik Divya Marathi. He has also been the  editor in chief  of Marathi newspaper  Loksatta.

Grover asked him about the fate of Sena's Hindutva agenda and the role of Sharad Pawar in stitching the coalition led by Thackeray.

IC: What are the lessons learnt from recent developments relating to government formation in Maharashtra?

Kumar Ketkar: The main lesson from Maharashtra developments, for all, including journalists and self-styled media political analysts, is that life and politics are more complex than they think. The second important point is that in politics, the parties identify common enemy or rival before they choose friends. Also, not one week, but even one day is too long in politics. The third revelation to many is that, if they thought that Modi-Shah are invincible in election and power games, they are hugely mistaken in their assessment. Also, if the Modi-Shah team thought that all local, regional and small parties can be devoured by cunning, blackmail and bribes, they will not succeed. Therefore, if the Gang of Four of Modi-Shah-Doval-Bhagwat thought that they can define fate and future of everyone, they are living in make-believe world.

IC: Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackray has no administrative or legislative experience. Do you think that this would create problems in running the coalition government?

While it is useful and advantageous to have administrative and legislative experience, it is not the defining point in running the government. More important is the ability to lead the team, particularly when it is a multi-coloured coalition, communication skills, ability to comprehend the issues and patience to resolve emerging conflicts. So far Uddhav has faced several major rebellions within the party. One by Narayan Rane; he was high profile former chief minister with money and muscle power. Then his cousin, Raj, perceived as more charismatic than Uddhav, walked away with a bang, giving the impression that he would steal the thunder, but Uddhav remained calm and patient. There were also reports that many second and third rank leaders had succumbed to bribe, blackmail and intimidation of Amit Shah, but Uddhav did not panic, though he was concerned or worried. He kept cool. He supported Congress candidates, Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee for the post of Rashtrapati, despite threats from the BJP of a possible split of the alliance. Despite being part of the alliance, and weaker partner, he often confronted Modi-Shah rule. Sometimes he gave in; on other occasions he challenged them. That was a tough ropewalk.

IC:  Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena is famous for using unconstitutional and strong-arm methods. It also symbolises regional chauvinism and anti-minoritism. Your comments.

Uddhav Thackeray is aware that if he pursues aggressive Hindutva, the coalition will collapse. So he will keep the communal agenda behind and work for populist issues. He will go out of way to help the farmers’ lobby, particularly because he is unfamiliar with that sector.

IC: NCP veteran Sharad Pawar has emerged as the architect in the power tussle between the BJP on one side and Shiv Sena-NCP and Congress on the other side. His presence looms large over the alliance. Your views.

Not only Sharad Pawar was the obvious architect, less known is the tremendous backstage management and political acumen of Sanjay Raut. He was the only person continuously coordinating with Sharad Pawar, Sonia Gandhi team, disgruntled elements in the Sena, hostile media and Uddhav himself. He used the Sena mouthpiece “Saamana” for maximum effect, propaganda, pursuant appeals and positioning of the Sena in the new coalition.

IC: Although all the three parties have pledged to follow the common minimum programme provisions, yet the possibility of a tussle between Shiv Sena and NCP-Congress cannot be ruled out. Your comments.

I don’t want to predict, who will behave or misbehave to cause crisis or collapse of the Uddhav government. Bolts from the blues are always possible. After all, it’s not a “perfect” coalition. It is born out of deficit trust crisis, compulsions and political chaos in the ruling alliance of BJP-Sena.

If Modi-Shah had not tried to marginalise the Sena, humiliate Uddhav and crush or bulldoze the partner, the new coalition would not have come about. It is the extreme arrogance, overconfidence, political immaturity and distrust of everyone outside the Gang of Four that led to the split. Uddhav had “behaved”, even caved in several times, and tried to adjust. That was taken as a sign of his helplessness, his surrendering style and fear of blackmail.  But when driven to the wall, with no ropes left to hang on to, Uddhav pounced back, with Sanjay Raut strategizing the show, without light at the end of the tunnel. That light came from Sharad Pawar who himself had been suffering from isolation and humiliation from directed ED and IT departments.

Congress showed patience and maturity, knowing it had not much leverage, but without them, the new coalition cannot come about. So it took time, but when it came, it joined with full force and conviction. Not giving “outside support” but joining the government from within.

IC: According to you what type of a government will it be under Thackeray? How about the quality of governance?

Uddhav is aware that he does not “know” everything. He knows that he would need consultations. He is not a rude or arrogant person. He would listen to the experienced bureaucrats and experts from various fields—agriculture, industry, urban development. He would take advice from Sharad Pawar, Balasaheb Thorat, Jayant Patil, who have political and administrative experience. His so-called “ignorance” will prove to be an asset as he has no preconceived notions, no prejudices, political or personal, no hatreds and no sense of vendetta. And most important, he will be the first 100 per cent urban chief minister, born, brought up and lived all life in Mumbai. No agricultural base or RSS style organisational or ideological foundation. Though he inherited militant Hindutva, he has been consciously distancing himself from it, realising the pragmatic need of living with Congress and NCP.

IC: What will be the top priority of Thackerey-led coalition government so that it can last for a full five years?

The government will go through hiccups, conflicts and hurdles created by the Modi-Shah regime. But they know, divided they fall. United, with whatever compulsions, they survive. All three of them are individually weak, but their individual weakness has become their collective strength.

(Published on 02nd December 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 49)