FPJ EDIT: Uddhav faces big test in new role

With Uddhav Thackeray taking oath as chief minister of a three-party alliance of disparate parties with agendas that were once considered poles apart, a Thackeray would be wielding power perched at that top position for the first time. Unlike his father and founder of Shiv Sena Bal Thackeray who revelled in wielding power without responsibility with no sense of restraint, Uddhav would now be exposed to power with responsibility where demands and questions would be fired at him. Considering that until the other day, the Thackerays were the torchbearers of Hindutva and their name was anathema to Muslims, what the NCP and the Congress expect from the new Shiv Sena would be radically different. Here is a classic example of what the lure of office can do to a seemingly ideologically-committed leader who was by ancestry a ‘tiger.’ Left to himself Uddhav would have preferred to use the remote control with his first-term legislator son Aaditya in the chief ministerial chair but the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress who tied up with him to displace the BJP insisted the coalition had to be led by him as an effective rebuff to the saffron brigade.

The challenge of running the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra is daunting indeed and Uddhav, not known for either diplomacy or consensual politics would have much learning to do virtually overnight. That he would have to deal with the titan of Maharashtra politics, the redoubtable Sharad Pawar, day in and day out, will be tough indeed. But he would have to keep his head above water as he goes along. It would be all too easy to mess up the coalition and fail in the tightrope walk but Uddhav would then be reinforcing the deep-rooted impression that the egos of Opposition leaders are too bloated for them to not fall apart. With numerous examples of Opposition marriages of convenience falling by the wayside, the latest one in Karnataka, Uddhav has much to do to prove the cynics wrong. The first baggage he has to deal with is that he ditched his three-decade-old ally the BJP in a manner that betrayed naked lust for power and position. Up until now, Uddhav had taken on the Centre as a gladiator. Now, he will be asked questions that would put him to test all the time. He would indeed be dealing with a Centre that would not open its purse strings so indulgently as it was prone to do earlier under BJP dispensations.

As he takes over the chief minister's post, Uddhav Thackeray's first priority would be to address farmers' grievances for which he had set his heart on farm loan waivers. Reports say his and his allies’ secret solution was to divert the Central funds meant for the Japanese-aided bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad towards financing the farm loan waivers. It is believed that that money has now been effectively blocked by the Centre and without that the State would find itself hard-pressed to splurge on freebies. Unseasonal rains and drought conditions in many parts of the state have impacted the income patterns of its farmers. It needs to be granted that the Fadnavis government was managing the economy reasonably well. In its bid to come to power, the Shiv Sena has rolled out populist promises like a complete write-off of farm loans, a 30 per cent cut in tariffs for domestic power consumers, a wholesome meal for Rs 10, and health check-ups for just Re 1. These measures, if implemented, will drain the state exchequer, and leave little funds for development. On agriculture sector, merely relying on farm loan waivers won’t be enough. The state needs to revamp its agriculture sector policies to ensure the farmer gets the right price for his produce and making the right technology accessible to overcome seasonal adversities.

Attracting the youth through schemes involving jobs for youth may be a priority for the new government but where are the jobs? The ways and means position of the Maharashtra government is as perilous as for other states and with three parties vying for honours there is little possibility of a sea change. Uddhav’s lack of experience in governance and administration would indeed be put to the test. But there is no disputing that there is an ordeal of fire awaiting Uddhav.