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Uddhav Era

Uddhav Era

In long-distance photography, there is a technique. You make all the settings and keep the frame ready. As soon as the subject enters the frame, click the button. It will be a perfect picture. This technique is used in sports and wildlife photography. What it needs is patience, more than high-end photographic gear.

Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray is a photographer who knows this technique, having dabbled in wildlife and nature photography. The youngest of his brothers, he had been lying low in politics. Many thought that he did not have it in him when his cousin, the more loquacious Raj Shrikant Thackeray formed his own party and started hitting the headlines in the media.

Uddhav Thackeray kept his cool for he knew that as long as he was the occupant of Matoshri Niwas, from where his father, the late Bal Thackeray, controlled politics, first in Bombay, renamed Mumbai, and, then, in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sainiks would be with him.

The massive turn-out of the people of Maharashtra to witness his swearing-in ceremony at Shivaji Park was proof, if proof was needed, of how his elevation to the highest political post in the state, has brought about a surge in Marathi pride. To use a religious metaphor, Mumbai was like Ayodhya when Ram returned from his 14-year van-vas with wife Sita and younger brother Lakshman beside him.

The contrast could not have been starker. It was 100 or so hours earlier that under the cover of darkness, a conspiracy was hatched and executed to the shock of one and all. The reference is to the swearing-in of Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP as Chief Minister and Ajit Pawar of the NCP as Deputy Chief Minister.

The cheerleaders of those in power did not take long to eulogise Union Home Minister Amit Shah as the modern-day Chanakya. When they were asked how Fadnavis would prove his majority when Ajit Pawar did not represent his party MLAs, without whose support the government could not have survived, they replied that if the government had the blessings of Shah, it would survive.

Of course, the Chanakya and his master had tried out the Maharashtra model of surprising everyone, first, in Goa, then in many states before installing a BJP government in Bengaluru. What the duo and their hatchet man in Mumbai, who continues to don the black RSS cap even while holding the gubernatorial post, did not realise was that the Shiv Sena was a hard nut to crack.

Logically speaking, the BJP and the Shiv Sena could have easily formed the government as they had fought the elections together and they had won a slender majority. All that the Sena demanded was rotational chief ministership. The BJP could have easily surrendered the post of Chief Minister for two and a half years.

It could have claimed that like Ram who preferred to go to van-vas to honour the demand of his aunt Kaikeyi, though the people wanted him as the successor of Dasarath, it was fulfilling its younger brother’s wish. 

The Shiv Sena would have been beholden to the BJP, which would have, in any case, held the remote control. Alas, obstinacy and pride did not allow the BJP to fulfil the Sena’s request. That is how they thought of pulling the rug from under the feet of Shiv Sena by installing a fraudulent government on Maharashtra. Alas, it backfired.

The situation in the BJP was such that Amit Shah preferred not to attend Parliament the day after Fadnavis was forced to resign. To say that the party has egg on its face is an understatement. A better expression would be that it has cow dung on its face.

How did this come about? It was obvious that there was no love lost between the BJP and the Shiv Sena, although they have been allies for donkey’s years. In retrospect, the Shiv Sena’s demand for Chief Ministership was, in fact, a ruse to break the alliance.

During the five years that Fadnavis remained Chief Minister, the Sena might have felt marginalised. The Big Brother did not pay any heed to the Small Brother. Small wonder that the Sena was a trenchant critic of the Modi government. The Sena mouthpiece Samna seemed to enjoy taking potshots at Modi and his Sancho Panza.

Realisation must have dawned on the Sena leadership, especially Uddhav Thackeray, that continuing the alliance would have proved costly to the organisation. After all, the BJP got almost double the number of seats the Sena won. In other words, the alliance was no longer proving beneficial to the Sena.

Thackeray realised that if the Sena remained satisfied with the No. 2 slot in the government, the party might be gobbled up by the BJP by the time elections are held in 2024. So, it wanted to free itself from the BJP’s Dhritarashtra hug as desperately as the BJP wanted to drive the Sena to a corner.

Why did the BJP fear giving the mantle of chief ministership to the Sena? They know what happened in Odisha. The party had an alliance with Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal. That is how the Sangh Parivar was able to create a scene in Kandhamal district which is still a blot on the image of the BJD government. The BJP thought that it could contain Patnaik’s popularity and emerge as the king-maker in the state.

It is now over two decades since Patnaik became chief minister of the state. At this rate, he will break the record of both Pawan Chamling and Jyoti Basu as the longest serving chief ministership. Over the decades, his popularity has got improved, not diminished. What’s more, he dropped the BJP like a hot potato when he realised that it was more a liability than an asset.

The BJP feared that if someone like Uddhav Thackeray is made Chief Minister, he could become another Patnaik, who would no longer be controllable. That is why, they preferred to have an alliance with the NCP and not have any relationship with the Sena.

In short, both parties had their own strong reasons to part ways than to stay together. Now, what will happen? Will Thackeray be able to complete his term of five years? In politics, predictions have no value. Who could have imagined that the drama Maharashtra witnessed would have been conceived, let alone enacted.

If the CPM and other Left parties could support the first Manmohan Singh government on the basis of a common minimum programme and let it complete its full term, there is no reason why the NCP and the Congress cannot do it in Maharashtra. Thackeray may not have any administrative experience but he has the sagacity to acknowledge the services of others.

The way he went about inviting Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh to the swearing-in ceremony was quite revealing of his character and political style, which will certainly stand him in good stead.

It was a brilliant move to invite farmers to the swearing-in ceremony. Today Maharashtra catches headlines in the media for the famers’ suicide that happens on a regular basis. It is symptomatic of the agrarian crisis which, if not controlled, will pave the way for the kind of violence that no government would be able to control.

The farmer needs to be empowered. He must get a good price for his produce. He should not be driven to penury. A government that addresses this problem will remain stable. More often than not, farmers commit suicide because they cannot repay the loans taken for cultivation or other reasons. They cannot take a flight away from the country like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi, who owe billions of rupees to Indian banks.

If the banking industry is in trouble it is because of bad loans given to big corporates, who owe the government billions and billions of rupees. When such debts are written off as is the practice, there is no hue and cry but when subsidy for farmers’ is mentioned there is criticism.

Of course, there is fear that Modi’s Bullet Train programme will get derailed. Japan has surplus money. It does not have much population. The country no longer has to invest in infrastructure. No more trains, no more planes and no more airports. They have everything.

That is why it has been supporting infrastructure projects in India like the Delhi Metro and the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train service. Of course, it is able to sell its technology. The point to be pondered is whether a bullet train is more important than improving the existing railway services by investing heavily in infrastructure.

In a country where unmanned level crossings are aplenty, it is pointless to invest in a bullet train which will remain unaffordable to a large majority of the people. If the Thackeray government does not show much interest in the project, so be it.

Politically, the Opposition has gained strength from what happened in Mumbai. A notable thing is that the appeal of regional parties has not waned. The victory of the Trinamool Congress in the by-elections held recently in West Bengal shows that Amit Shah’s machinations have not worked. Mamata Banerjee remains popular. Hard Hindutva is no longer appealing to the people.

The Kashmir gamble seems to have failed. The setbacks the BJP suffered in all the elections post-abrogation of Article 370 prove that it cannot bluff the people. The Centre cannot split a state into three units and make them Union Territories, except at great cost to its credibility.

Has the Congress gained by aligning with a party which is considered more saffron than the BJP? There is a fundamental difference between the BJP and the Sena. While the former has an ideology that does not approve of democracy, the Sena is at best a regional party with virtually no ambitions outside of the state.

The Congress has been in alliance with the Muslim League in Kerala for a long time. The party may not be secular but nobody has accused the League of fomenting communal trouble. When the Babri Masjid was destroyed in 1992, it took a very cautious stand. Yes, it has bargained for a seat or a post but it has never fomented any trouble anywhere.

Small wonder that some even call the Muslim League the most “secular” party in the country. When the Congress fielded a lady from Maharashtra as its Presidential candidate, the Shiv Sena was the first to extend support to Pratibha Patil as President. It must have surprised the BJP, its closest ally then.

Nobody at that time advised the Congress not to accept the support of the Sena. Who does not know that a single-sized shoe does not fit all? The re-emergence of the Congress as a ruling party in one more major state is of considerable significance for the party.

It is no longer a party that can be taken for granted. It played its cards well in Mumbai. The BJP hopes to fill the Opposition space. Yes, it can but much will depend on how the Thackeray government conducts itself. If it sticks to the agreed minimum programme and tries to solve the agrarian crisis and address the need to create jobs for the millions of youth, it will have nothing to fear.

Politics is the art of the possible. The BJP cannot be expected to remain idle. It will make attempts to destabilise the government in hundred and one ways. Ask Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi and V. Narayanasamy in Puducherry how the Centre has been needling them through the Lt. Governors and they will turn garrulous.

One difference is that Sena is not the Congress and Thackeray is not Kejriwal. Let’s hope the new government will keep itself busy addressing the problems of the people rather than talking nonsense about cow and doing foolish acts like demonetisation. Thackeray has the wishes of everyone in the country. 

The ability to visualise and click a nice picture is great but a photographer must also know how to edit the picture to make it more appealing to the viewers. That is what the people expect from the photographer Chief Minister.

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

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