Eight years after Bal Thackeray's death, son Uddhav makes his mark as Maharashtra CM
The Uddhav Thackeray-led government is now close to completing one year in office, most of it being in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the weekend that followed Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray's death eight years ago, the city of Mumbai had come to a standstill. As the news spread, shopkeepers hurried to down their shutters, and roads quickly became empty. The Shiv Sena claimed that this was a spontaneous reaction by people mourning the leader's demise, but the party's long history of strong-arm tactics made its claim implausible.
That weekend was among the last glimpses of the Shiv Sena of yore — when the party would often bring Mumbai to a halt through the threat of violence. Since then, Bal Thackeray's son Uddhav has sought to reshape the Shiv Sena into a party of governance, while carving his own niche in Maharashtra's political space.
Uddhav Thackeray now helms the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) — a coalition between the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress that would have been considered unthinkable not long ago. The MVA government is now close to completing one year in office, most of it being in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Uddhav as administrator
For most of the Shiv Sena's existence, its founder Bal Thackeray had fashioned himself as a messiah for the Marathi working class. The Thackerays stayed away from administrative roles and did not even run for elected office till 2019.
The Thackeray family's approach to politics has, however, changed sharply since then. While Aaditya Thackeray won the Assembly election from Worli in 2019, Uddhav became a Member of the Legislative Council in May 2020. Uddhav, as chief minister, now has to deal with the nitty-gritty of administration — from controlling the spread of the coronavirus to crop insurance to the public distribution scheme.
The Maharashtra government's response to COVID-19 has been a mixed bag. The state has by far the highest number of cases in the country, but this is not a major surprise, considering that it is the second-most populous state and a highly urbanised one at that.
In the early months of the outbreak, there were frequent reports of bed shortages in major cities such as Mumbai and Pune. A report by The Indian Express in May showed that there was a shortage of beds in dedicated COVID-19 hospitals, which admit critically ill patients, such as those who require ICU and ventilator support. The report said that there was a waiting period for such beds, and several patients died while waiting for beds.
However, in recent weeks, there has been a notable improvement in Maharashtra, which has reflected in the nationwide COVID-19 numbers. Daily coronavirus cases have been declining for over 40 days, even as officials brace for a possible second wave.
Shortly after ascending to power, the Uddhav Thackeray-led government also announced a farm loan waiver. The waiver for loans of up to Rs two lakh, and had a cut-off date of September 2019. By 3 March, Uddhav said that the state government has deposited Rs 4,807 crore into the bank accounts of 7.65 lakh farmers.
However, the Shiv Sena's ally, the Nationalist Congress Party, appears to have taken the lead in several aspects of governance. Several NCP ministers hold regular 'janata darbars' where they meet common citizens and address their grievances, as noted by an article in The Week.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the Shiv Sena had identified itself with hardline Hindutva and Marathi regional pride. Uddhav Thackeray has now pushed the Shiv Sena to a much more moderate position on both issues.
While this shift became more prominent after the MVA government came to power, it has been in the works for a long time. In 2003, Uddhav launched a campaign called 'Mee Mumbaikar', aimed at including people of all religions and regions in the development of the city, as noted by India Today. This marked a huge shift from the ideology espoused by Bal Thackeray, who was indicted by the Srikrishna Commission for his role in inciting the 1992-1993 riots. The Shiv Sena founder had also famously said that he was proud of the party workers who took part in demolishing the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
Uddhav, on the other hand, has resisted majoritarian impulses to a large extent — saying that he will not allow the National Register of Citizens in the state, and even reopening an abetment to suicide case against TV anchor Arnab Goswami.
While he insists that the Shiv Sena still espouses Hindutva, he took a jibe at the BJP over the issue in the party's Dussehra rally — remarking that his party's Hindutva is not about clanging bells and utensils.
Uddhav has also sought to appeal to Marathi pride on multiple occasions — such as while hitting out at actor Kangana Ranaut over her remarks comparing Mumbai to Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.
In his annual Dussehra speech, Uddhav also dared the BJP to bring down the MVA government in Maharashtra and said that its former ally is focussed on bringing down governments rather than governance.
As of now, it is difficult to say whether the government will complete its full term. However, as the MVA completes one year in office, what is certain is that Uddhav has now largely stepped out of his father's shadow.
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