That the three-party ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ (MVA) government in Maharashtra, which consists of disparate allies like the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, is running a four-legged race is obvious.
But apart from being a clumsy combination due to the clockwork precision that those in the team often find it tough to achieve, such races often see the runners stumbling and having a hard fall much to their embarrassment.
Like it happened with the MVA regarding the transfer of 10 deputy commissioners of police (DCP) in Mumbai, which were announced and revoked within two days after the intervention of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
The state government also had to face embarrassment after the Mumbai police tried to enforce an order meant to ensure that citizens restricted themselves to an area in a 2-km radius from their homes. Barricades and nakabandis set up to implement the diktat issued by Commissioner of Police Parambir Singh led to massive traffic snarls and had to be withdrawn subsequently.
The NCP is said to be upset at Uddhav’s moves to gradually ease the lockdown restrictions in the state, instead of allowing normalcy to resume sooner. The Congress and NCP are also wary of the rising anti-incumbency against the regime due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases and disruptions to the economy caused by a continuing lockdown.
In what led to a churn in already choppy waters, the NCP sprung a surprise on the Shiv Sena by wooing away five of its corporators from Ahmednagar district. These dissident Shiv Sena leaders joined the NCP in the presence of deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar on Sunday, leading to protests from Shiv Sena leaders at “the deputy chief minister breaking the chief minister’s party.”
The Sena prevailed on the NCP to ensure that these five corporators were returned to its flock. However, despite the last-minute damage control, it became obvious that the constituents of the MVA may be acting at cross purposes.
On Monday evening, Uddhav met NCP supremo Sharad Pawar to iron out these differences. A senior Shiv Sena leader claimed that even home minister Anil Deshmukh was unaware of the exact extent of the transfers by Singh, which were passed off as routine, internal ones.
“When it comes to police postings in Mumbai, it is obvious that the Shiv Sena will want a say. This incident shows that we need better co-ordination among ourselves. The chief minister’s consent will be necessary when it comes to running the government and taking administrative decisions,” he explained.
A senior police official noted that when it comes to running a government, “all parties must be in sync,” which did not seem to be the case here.
The controversy and subsequent embarrassment over the DCP transfers also points to the politicization of the police force, and one faction of senior IPS officers trying to steal a march over another.
The Shiv Sena’s protests over the transfers was said to be catalysed by the objections of its ministers, legislators and even local functionaries, at officers of their choice not being posted in their areas or being shunted. However, the party has been muted over transfers in a Sena minister’s fiefdom, which are said to have left him miffed.
The Shiv Sena’s Eknath Shinde, who is one of the few party leaders with an organic mass base, is said to be upset over the sudden transfers of four municipal commissioners in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) last month. This is said to have taken place at the NCP’s behest. It is said that despite being the urban development minister, Shinde was not kept in the loop on the transfers of these civic chiefs, including that of Vijay Singhal from the Thane municipal corporation, and his replacement with Vipin Sharma.
The politically ambitious Shinde is the Shiv Sena’s boss in Thane, which is part of Mumbai’s extended suburbs. That Uddhav is wary of Sena leaders with a mass base, thanks to rebellions of such leaders within the party like Chhagan Bhujbal, Ganesh Naik and Narayan Rane, is well-known.
Shiv Sena ministers admit that despite this being a Shiv Sena-led government, it is the NCP which controls crucial portfolios like finance, home, water resources and housing, that calls the shots.
Compared to the Shiv Sena, which has traditionally confined itself to the politics of the cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the NCP and to an extent, the Congress have a cadre of loyalist officers and bureaucrats. This helps them steal a march over their colleagues from the Sena when it comes to matters of the state and running the government.
On their part, the NCP has its own list of complaints against Uddhav and the Sena. NCP ministers, while admitting that the co-ordination within the government and between the three parties needs improve, note that Uddhav is inaccessible to his cabinet colleagues and legislators even during the unprecedented situation caused by the Corona pandemic.
They allege that under Uddhav’s watch, a clique of select bureaucrats runs the show, often overruling ministers.
Leaders from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the single-largest in the state assembly, claim that instead of them launching an operation to topple the government, it will fall under the weight of its own contradictions. They claim that eventually, the cumulative effect of these sticking points will result in matters reaching a boil.
Though NCP leaders say this claim and word-play is part of the politics played by the BJP, they admit that there can be no smoke without fire.
Dhaval Kulkarni is a Mumbai-based journalist and author of ‘The Cousins Thackeray: Uddhav, Raj and the Shadow of their Senas.’ Views expressed are personal.