By Sushil Kutty
The other day somebody wrote that the only party that stood between Narendra Modi and a third term as Prime Minister was the Indian National Congress; of course with the cautionary note that Wayanad MP and former Congress President Rahul Gandhi should understand the enormity of the situation and behave accordingly.
The person with that point of view did not look askance at the Shiv Sena, which is in alliance with the Congress in Maharashtra and which was till a couple of years ago a loose-cannon capable of digging up a perfectly made-up pitch on the eve of an important cricket test. Those were the heydays of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray, whose slender frame came draped over a spine of steel.
Balasaheb was steadfast in Shiv Sena’s adherence to Hindutva and nobody in his presence could mention otherwise. So, how did son and successor Uddhav Thackeray break that covenant and usurp the Sena to start a new innings under the awning of a secular canopy, in the company of the “secular” Congress of Sonia Gandhi and the equally “secular” Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar?
In simple English, for power. Political and economic power. Uddhav Thackeray argued for a higher stake and Pawar and Sonia Gandhi agreed.
For the Shiv Sainiks it was a new feeling. For Uddhav Thackeray the first few days must have been exhilarating. He had to think out of the box and there weren’t many believers outside of the Shiv Sena.
Of course, the fact that Sharad Pawar tutored the first-time Chief Minister, and Rahul Gandhi said the Congress wouldn’t have much of a role helped the novice learn on the job. So, did greenhorn Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray take advantage and learn the ropes?
Ask Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and he’ll cackle “Uddhavjiiii” with a pint of oozing disdain. There’s no doubt that certain folks, which included certain media, took advantage of the “raw” Thackeray and led him up the garden path, to where nothing grew except mesquite and cactus.
The only saving grace was that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray stood his ground and played his cards okay in the face of provocations from friend and foe. The feud with Republic TV apart, the ghost of Sushant Singh Rajput apart, the Mumbai Police shenanigans apart, Sachin Vaze and Param Bir Singh apart, the scandalous home minister in a soup apart…
Uddhav Thackeray managed to hold on to power and if he’s still there at the helm, it’s maybe because he learned on the job and quite well at that. So, where does the Shiv Sena and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray figure in the new normal?
If there’s one defeat, it’s that Maharashtra, Mumbai in particular, got thrown under the Covid-19 bus. For known and unknown reasons, the coronavirus took a liking and wouldn’t let go. Whether it was delta or now the delta-plus variant, Maharashtra has been favourite hunting ground.
And Maharashtra has seen the most number of infections, and the most number of Covid-19 deaths. It’s a record no state would want to covet. Now, it’s the vaccinations phase and there are reports of a third Covid wave waiting to strike. Expect Maharashtra to take the brunt, again.
The Shiv Sena and Uddhav Thackeray have much at stake. And, keeping with the mood, political winds also seem to be changing direction. Not surprisingly, the belligerent party is the Shiv Sena. Uddhav Thackeray has started behaving like Balasaheb.
The caricature has added both flesh and bone as the party goes about asserting itself in the Maha Vikas Aghadi, and changing tack with erstwhile partner BJP. So what’s cooking? Is everything okay between the constituents of the MVA, or have things come to a stage where only the announcement remains to be made?
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s “beat with shoes” remark was indication, as was Congress leader Nana Patole’s clarification that getting into an alliance didn’t mean the Congress and the Shiv Sena would fight elections together. He did clarify that Uddhav would complete his five years as CM, meaning the MVA Government will run its course. All this after the Chief Minister had a one-on-one with the Prime Minister, and questions erupted over the duo’s meeting.
It was almost like the Chief Minister announcing to the MVA that if not you two, there’s always the extraordinary step of ‘gharwapasi’, which to the Shiv Sena would be an ordinary step. Has Modi told Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray that he can always count on the BJP?
Maybe yes, maybe not. The Shiv Sena is fence-sitting, with Saamna editor Sanjay Raut playing games, writing neither this nor that, leaving everybody guessing. And on top of that another Shiv Sena leader is asking the Sena leadership to return to the comforting shade of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Now, this guy couldn’t have demanded that unless prompted by party president Uddhav Thackeray. So, what’s cooking? Sanjay Raut is back to taking digs at Rahul Gandhi, asking the Gandhi scion why isn’t he talking opposition unity with Sharad Pawar? And this when Narendra Modi and the BJP are both in the doghouse together!
So, for the third time, what’s cooking? Are the BJP and Shiv Sena heading for a reunion? Maybe not. In that case, why wasn’t the Shiv Sena invited to the meeting at Pawar’s Delhi haunt? Sanjay Raut in the Saamna says, “Prime Minister Modi’s body language seems to have changed now and it is clear that the overall situation of the country is not good and we are not in control…Despite the anger and discontentment among people, the BJP has self-confidence that their government is not in danger. This is due to a weak and disintegrated opposition party.” So, for the fourth time, what’s cooking? (IPA Service)