Maharashtra in Crisis
Mumbai waits for the dust to settle
The government may or may not survive in Maharashtra, with the drama continuing. A bunch of legislators are closeted in Surat – now they say in Guwahati– under the leadership of old Shiv Sena faithful Eknath Shinde. Even as we write this, Shinde is claiming the support of 40 MLA's that basically suggests that he can form a breakaway party and use the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party to become the Chief Minister. Whether he has the numbers or not is still to be ascertained, but there are no two views that Udhav Thackeray is in serious trouble and his Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition government in danger of a total collapse.
The Shiv Sena has withstood such tensions before, but this seems to be its most serious challenge yet. Shinde does not appear to be in a mood to relent and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who is usually credited with such coups, is preparing to meet him and his own party legislators as well. Needless to say Shinde is currently in a good position, and with his large posse of MLA's can dictate terms to both sides. Some contact has been established between him and the Maharashtra CM now, according to latest reports, but whether it will pay dividends remains to be seen.
It is ironic that the BJP that is ruling the centre remains on a mission, while the Opposition that is actually being faced with extinction continues to carp and quarrel. The problems in the coalition have been making news for a while now, with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress and the Shiv Sena legislators constantly jostling for top posts, and quarreling amongst themselves. This has weakened governance, with NCP leader Sharad Pawar now seemingly unable to wave his magic wand and provide the glue necessary to bring all factions together. After stating that it was an internal matter of the Shiv Sena he has admitted that the state government is in crisis, and while talks are going on even as the Maharashtra Cabinet meets, the future remains unclear.
There are two reasons for the current mess. One, Udhav Thackeray's inability to carry all the legislators with him. Signs of unrest have been visible for a while now, and were felt during the elections to the Rajya Sabha and particularly the Legislative Council where the BJP won more seats than it should have because of cross voting. He should have reached out to Shinde long before, and settled the issues being raised by the Shiv Sena members. Of course it is no secret that he has been facing opposition within the coalition from allies - NCP and Congress. The two parties do not seem to have realised and digested the importance of staying in power, and working towards a smooth and well oiled coalition. Instead they have been hard at work to pull out the rug from beneath the Shiv Sena, in the hope they can dance on the spoils. This has been the bane of India's Opposition, the inability to function unitedly and cohesively.
Two, the Shiv Sena as an organisation was born and brought up on the drug of communalism. And of course the larger Mumbai for Mumbaikars plank. The shift away by Thackeray towards a more secular policy has made it tough for many of the SS cadres to adjust, and as sources have been informing the media on behalf of Shinde, they are more at home with the BJP ideology. And would like to continue in government with the BJP in Maharashtra. Thackeray's soft talk is not going down well with some in his party, and Shinde's rebellion is seen as an outburst of this sentiment.
It is difficult though at this stage to predict what will happen in Maharashtra. Efforts are on, phone lines are busy, as are the to and fro flights carrying intermediaries. More on this later as the sun sets and the dust settles.