Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray (Photo Credit: File Image)
Completing hundred days in office, MaharashtraChief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has managed to walk a tightrope so far, deftly handling issues such as NPR-CAA and Muslim quota while heading the alliance between his party, pro-Hindutva Shiv Sena and the ‘secular’ Congress-NCP. Thackeray, who had never held any position in any government before he was sworn in as chief minister on November 28, 2019, seems to have settled in his new role quickly, mainly owing to his calm manner and capacity to take along the heavyweights in his cabinet, observers say.
The unlikely coalition came to power after long-time allies Shiv Sena and BJP parted ways over the chief minister’s post despite winning the Assembly polls. After taking over as CM, Thackeray admitted in the legislature that he was inexperienced. Interestingly, he chose not to keep major portfolios with him, instead distributing them among his experienced colleagues such as Sena’s Eknath Shinde, NCP’s Ajit Pawar, Jayant Patil and Congress’ Balasaheb Thorat.
A senior minister saidThackeray gives space to all senior leaders in his cabinet. “He favours decision-making by consensus, taking every one along,” the leader said. He also enjoys a good rapport with NCP president Sharad Pawar, who is seen as the architect of the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance of the three parties. Owing to different ideologies of its constituents, the government has dealt with some thorny issues such as the stand on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Population Register, and reservations for Muslims.
But Thackeray did not allow the opposition BJP to corner him on any of these issues. On CAA and NPR, he initially said there was nothing objectionable about these measures, but then set up a cabinet sub-committee to "study and advise" the state government on what stand should be taken.
When the NCP and Congress announced that they supported reservations for Muslims in education, something which the Sena had opposed in the past, Thackeray sidestepped the issue saying the proposal had not come up before him yet. When the BJP tried to corner him over Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s uncharitable comments about Savarkar whom the Sena reveres, Thackeray asked why the BJP failed to confer Bharat Ratna on the Hindutva ideologue in the last five years.
To counter BJP’s allegation that he compromised on Hindutva to gain power, Thackeray announced that he will visit Ayodhya to offer prayers to Lord Ram on completion of 100 days in office. When the BJP demanded that Aurangabad in central Maharashtra, a city which derives its name from Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, be renamed as Sambhajinagar,the government quickly renamed the Aurangabad airport after Chhatrapati Sambhaji, warrior king Shivaji’s elder son.
Thackeray avoided direct confrontation with the Centre over the National Investigation Agency (NIA) taking over the Elgar Parishad-Koregaon Bhima caste violence case. Sharad Pawar had earlier demanded inquiry into the way Pune Police, who arrested several rights activists in the case, went about the probe.
Home Minister and NCP leader Anil Deshmukh had opposed the center’s decision to take over the probe. But in Pune court, the government gave its nod for the NIA’s take-over. Thackeray defended the U-turn saying that the Koregaon-Bhima caste violence and Elgar Parishad were different cases and the NIA had taken over only the latter.
Thackeray has never contested an election in his life. Now he would need to contest one, to become a member of either the state Assembly or the Legislative Council.