The game seems to be over for Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, with a majority of the Shiv Sena legislators opting for the leadership of Eknath Shinde. In fact, with each passing hour, there is growing evidence that the chief minister no longer controls the dominant party in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA). The alacrity with which he vacated his official residence to shift to Matoshree, from where his father Bal Thackeray used to control state politics, was an admission of defeat in the fight for numbers. What has happened in the Shiv Sena is nothing but an implosion about which Thackeray had no clue. The fact that Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar lamented that the intelligence agencies had not been able to tip off the chief minister about the goings-on in his backyard was a telling commentary on the state of affairs in the Sena. Thackeray and Co woke up to reality only when Shinde surfaced in Surat with a sizeable number of MLAs supporting the government. By the time they shifted base to Guwahati, he realised that all he should think about was saving his face while leaving his post.
To claim that he did not want to be the chief minister and it was foisted on him by Sharad Pawar was to fill the gaps with darkness. He should have seen the writing on the wall when the Shiv Sena failed to win the desired number of seats in the recent Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council elections. If he had had his ear to the ground, he would have realised that a growing number of Shiv Sainiks were getting disenchanted with the government. It is impossible to believe that Eknath Shinde’s revolt was planned in a day or two. He may or may not have received support from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but the fact is that a majority of the party MLAs owe their allegiance to him. Success in politics is not measured by the figures the bureaucrats trot out but by the sense of closeness the people feel for the leaders. It now transpires that Thackeray had remained inaccessible even to ministers, forget MLAs and grassroots workers. If they felt that the finance minister, who belonged to the NCP, was partial to his party men at the cost of the Shiv Sena, they could have felt only hopelessness in the party.
Nonetheless, it is politically puerile to believe that everything happened on its own without any pressure from extraneous forces. The BJP has reason to destabilise the government, given the fact that the two parties had fought the 2019 elections together. It could have used its political and monetary clout to induce the MLAs to go to Guwahati and play the game of numbers from there. Even so, the denouement should be seen as the result of Thackeray’s own failure. In other words, there is no point in putting the blame on others. As the chief minister himself admitted in an emotional statement, it was not the MLAs belonging to the NCP and the Congress who created problems for him but his own party men. What happened between Thackeray and Shinde is not just one-upmanship. There is clear politics in their differences. Shinde wants the Shiv Sena to break its ties with the NCP and the Congress which means it should finish the MVA. Also, he wants the party to have a tie-up with the BJP. This will certainly be to the liking of the BJP, which had always considered the Shiv Sena as its natural ally because they both profess Hindutva.
The BJP knows that the Shiv Sena today is no longer what it was when Bal Thackeray was its undisputed leader. It has almost double the number of MLAs the Sena has. In fact, it was the realisation by Uddhav Thackeray that the party would not grow under a banyan tree like the BJP that prompted him to form the MVA with a common minimum programme. Shinde’s argument that the Congress and the NCP were growing at the cost of the Sena is a flawed formulation, in the light of evidence that the Sena got weakened when the coalition government in Maharashtra was led by the BJP. If the Sena abandons its partners, it will take the BJP closer to its objective of ridding the nation of the Congress.
A combative Thackeray-led Sena, together with the Congress and the NCP, can indeed be a formidable force in Maharashtra and could even take on the challenge posed by the Shinde-led Sena and the BJP. The alternative of succumbing to Shinde’s pressure tactics and leaving the alliance partners in the lurch is too easy to choose. However, the courageous are the ones who have a clear vision and are ready to choose the less-trodden path. The choice is Thackeray’s own.