The biggest talking point at the BJP headquarters this week in Mumbai was the order that came from the BJP's top brass in New Delhi that a coordination committee should be set up to hold regular meetings between three constituents of the government in Maharashtra, EknathShinde's Shiv Sena, Ajit Pawar's NCP and BJP itself. This came with the backdrop of rising buzz in the political circles that the discomfort between Eknath Shinde and Ajit Pawar was growing and perhaps was affecting the functioning of the alliance. This is now the biggest concernfor the BJP. The party cannot afford any cracks in the MahaYuti Alliance that they have built in Maharashtra to challenge Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar's MVA or Maha Vikas Aghadi.
There are three factors that one can clearly attribute to the discomfort Chief Minister Eknath Shinde senses in the present government. He is reportedly even speaking about it with insiders of his group and has been vocal about it with some of his followers from his home turf Thane.
Firstly, the way Shinde walked away from Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena taking away initially just 12 and later 39 of the sitting MLAs of Maharashtra assembly was in his view a big political risk. Travelling first to Surat and then taking a special aircraft with all his MLAs to Guwahati, Shinde kept his flock together and provided confidence to them that he would return to Mumbai with them to form a new government in Maharashtra. This worked out the way Shinde wanted it to. He took oath as chief minister and his supporters were elated to witness the developments. However, over a year later now many, if not most, of Shinde's supporters feel that they have got a raw deal when it comes to cabinet berths or portfolios they have been given in the state government. Initially most of the important portfolios were held by Devendra Fadnavis himself and now some of those key ones have been handed over to Ajit Pawar-led NCP!
The second factor is of course the way BJP is making Shinde run to New Delhi for every major approval. Whether it is the issue of cabinet expansion, whether it is appointments to state corporations or whether it’s other big decisions, it is obvious that Shinde and Fadnavis are seen travelling to Delhi and meeting the top leaders of BJP to get approvals, and the decisions are publicly announced only after that.
The third factor in Shinde's discomfort has to do with Ajit Pawar and NCP's sudden inclusion in the government, and the NCP being handed crucial portfolios such as Finance and Agriculture. This caused a virtual shockwave in the Shinde camp. Many in the group were originally upset with Ajit Pawar's style of fund allocation and his alleged bias in the distribution of grants and aid to NCP MLAs during the previous MVA government's rule. Now with Ajit Pawar himself back as Finance Minister, most of the MLAs in the Shinde group are very concerned about how things will pan out for them.
Ajit Pawar’s style of functioning is known to be very aggressive. After taking over as finance minister he straight headed to Mantralaya and started holding nonstop meetings with bureaucrats. He hit the ground running because he has been in the government for several years previously. String of decisions that he took in the first couple of weeks and the speed at which he started changing certain things has upset Eknath Shinde. Insiders say Shinde mentioned this to Devendra Fadnavis a couple of times and requested that he should be consulted before major decisions taken by the finance minister. The issue was not resolved and Shinde was seen going to his village in Satara district on holiday. Shinde even skipped the high-profile inauguration of the Rs 870-crore highway interchange in Pune, a project he himself had initiated two years previously as the chief of the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC).
The discord between Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar is now known to most of the MLAs and bureaucrats in Maharashtra. Ajit Pawar's desire to get back the position of guardian minister of Pune district is open and obvious, and he is heard openly speaking about it. The BJP is getting worried about the situation and has decided to step in. On Monday the party top brass in Delhi sent a communication to the heads and important leaders of Maharashtra State BJP, Shinde’s Shiv Sena and the Ajit Pawar-led NCP that they should form a coordination committee and hold regular meetings perhaps once in a month or once in a fortnight to iron out all the differences. It is obvious that the party has got cautious about the possibility of cracks developing in the Sena-BJP-NCP alliance known as the MahaYuti Alliance.
Whether formation of a coordination committee and holding meetings to sort out issues will suffice at this stage is a big question nobody has the answer to. But it is clear that with three power centres in the state government and a fourth power centre controlling things from New Delhi, keeping leaders of all factions happy is not going to be an easy task for the Maha Yuti Alliance.
Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune