The Antilia bomb scare case may have spiralled into a full-blown crisis for the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, but nothing seems to be done to save it from being buffeted with more and more damning disclosures in its wake. The nature of the three-way alliance is such that no one seems to be in control, for them to be able to steer the ramshackle alliance out of its worst crisis so far in its 16-month-long chequered history.
Sharad Pawar, the most experienced leader in the state, is not part of the government. The official command is in the hands of Uddhav Thackeray, a complete novice in administration. As the leader of the largest component, Thackeray feels obliged to feather his own nest and ensure that neither Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party nor the third ally, the Congress Party, exploits the stint in power to advance their own cause at the cost of the Shiv Sena. Instead of trust, suspicion and fears of betrayal inform the working of the alliance.
Of course, the largest party in the assembly, the BJP, sits out in the Opposition, keeping a hawk-eyed vigil on the ugly goings-on with the very legitimate objective of ousting the post-poll alliance of the incompatible. Happily for the BJP, the MVA seems to be doing its job for it.
The sensational claim by the ousted Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh that Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had set a monthly collection target of Rs 100 crore in bribes for the Mumbai police has made international headlines. Yet, not only has the accuser not withdrawn his charge but worse, as a serving officer has had the temerity to challenge his transfer in the Supreme Court. Whether the court will entertain the plea remains to be seen but his defiance is a reflection of the inner schisms that hobble the functioning of the coalition.
As Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad alleged on Tuesday, the common perception is that the three MVA constituents are in it with the sole objective of raking it in, never mind governance. As the fresh surge in the coronavirus infections shows, the handling of the biggest health emergency in recent human history in Maharashtra has been lopsided and haphazard. Extraneous matters engage the government to the exclusion of governance.
Meanwhile, the crisis of the Antilia bomb, which fortunately did not explode, and the Rs 100-crore-a-month in bribes which did in the face of the MVA continues unabated. The BJP leaders while tearing apart the defence of the indefensible MVA were being unusually kind towards Pawar, saying he was ill-informed and ill-briefed while he defended Deshmukh. Nonetheless the party completely rejected Pawar’s defence that the home minister could not have met the junior Mumbai police officers to make the demand for Rs 100 crore. Param Bir Singh has demanded that the CCTV footage at Deshmukh’s home be seized for corroborating his charge.
Meanwhile, the demand for President’s rule in Maharashtra on the ground that there is a complete collapse of administration seems to be sheer partisan rhetoric. It should not at all be contemplated. The BJP should fight the MVA on a political plane, not invoking Central intervention on extraordinary grounds. By all accounts, there seems to be no move for the Centre to intervene.
Yet, the Sena megaphones threatening to 'burn down Maharashtra’ should the Centre impose President’s rule, typically, reveals the core character of the party. Its faith in equal opportunity from the lowest to the highest in its ranks to line their pockets with the proceeds of violence, crime, extortion, plain bribes, blackmail etc., is too well known to need reiteration. But the alleged threat held out by the leader of the Sena in the Lok Sabha on Monday against a fellow member from Maharashtra who had raised the scandalous charge of the monthly Rs 100-crore extortion in the House does mark a new low.
In her complaint to the Lok Sabha Speaker, Om Birla, the independent member from Amravati, Navneet Rana, accused Arvind Sawant of warning her that 'her face will be disfigured and her free movement in Maharashtra made impossible’ for the remarks against the MVA government. That the Sena has prospered practising the politics of violence, threats, intimidation and blackmail is hardly hidden from anyone. At least, the other two parties do not glorify such crude behaviour while the Sena leaders who openly threaten to burn Mumbai down if the government is dismissed seem to revel in it. Hopefully, a veteran like Pawar will be able to escape unharmed from his partnership with the Sena.