Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has just come out of a gruelling Budget session of the state legislature. Both, his aggressive ruling partner and the opposition, made sure he had his hands full at the recently concluded session.
It made for a rather absurd political scene, where it appeared as though the traditional opposition parties swapped their seats and occupied the treasury benches, while the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance, which had ruled the state for the past 15 years occupied the opposition benches. It was interesting to see how the BJP-Shiv Sena leaders, who used to launch blistering attacks on the government were defending every action of the government, while the Congress and the NCP kept mustering up courage to attack the BJP-Sena Government.
It was not merely the Opposition swapping places with the treasury benches, but with the political divide widening in the past decade, there are lots of currents and cross currents affecting the functioning of the state legislature. The Shiv Sena threw tantrums, akin to the NCP putting pressure on the Congress.
This time around, the BJP had to deal with an aggressive Sena head on, which was evident during the session, as many controversial issues were raised and discussed. The NCP, on its part, occupies an ambiguous position, where it has promised to support the government in case there is a possibility of political instability in the state. Smaller parties like the Republican Party of India (RPI), led by Ramdas Athawale and the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP), led by Mahadev Jankar, with their own grievances, took this chance to pressure the ruling alliance.
The power struggle within the BJP seems to have ended at least with everything falling in line over leadership issue. Despite grumbling by senior leaders, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has established his leadership in the party by adjusting with different power groups. The opposition, which was divided over leadership issues, did raise some pertinent issues to attack the government. Politically sensitive issues like reservations for Muslims and the Dhangar community were raised to corner the government.
The chief minister was happy, however, for the opposition, somehow, could not corner the government properly on the floor of the House. The budget did not show much spark, as it was mostly an exercise in maintaining the status quo. There were a few pro-people initiatives in the Budget, but the government failed to present these properly. It wanted to move the Right to Service Bill, but there were too many loopholes and the list had to be redrawn to include 160 services within the ambit of the law.
The opposition tried to corner the government on the issue of the relief package for farmers and peasants, who were upset with the all the talk about the Land Acquisition Bill being discussed in Parliament. With support from the Modi Government, the state government was able to expand this package to Rs 10,000 crore. The government found it had bitten off more than it could chew with its beef ban and found it tough explaining the decision to the minorities and the economists, who picked holes in its policy.
The opposition was quick to make it sound like it was a deliberate attempt to divert attention from more pressing issues. The removal of senior Congress leader Shivajirao Deshmukh as chairman of the state legislative council was an unpleasant development for the opposition. The NCP got tacit support from the BJP to install Ramraje Nimbalkar as new chairman of the state legislative council.
The NCP president Sharad Pawar kept shifting his stand, from opposing the Modi Government to taking potshots at the Congress for its weakness. His main aim appears to be to remain on the right side of the Delhi government, but this is however creating confusion in his party’s rank and file.
But the biggest headache for the government was the draft development plan for Mumbai, as prepared by the municipal authorities. The Shiv Sena went hammer and tongs at the proposed plan. It opposed the proposal to develop Aarey Colony, which had so far been treated as a ‘no development’ zone. The MNS chief Raj Thackeray was also quick to dub the new development plan as being against the interests of the Marathi manoos. In the face of such opposition, the chief minister had no alternative, but to buy time, by appointing a committee to study the document.
The BJP state president, Raosaheb Danve, has been making special efforts to smoothen the Sena’s ruffled feathers. He has met Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to sort out differences and a coordination committee has been set up to take stock of the situation. The Jaitapur nuclear project is going to be another major hurdle, with the Sena opposing it ever since its inception. The recent visit to France by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his agenda for further cooperation with the French Government in the field of nuclear energy will get the Jaitapur project going.
The BJP-led government in the state will also need to create some sort of unanimity over the provisions of the Land Acquisition Bill, which has now been converted into an ordinance. The NCP, as well as the Sena, have been making noises against certain provisions of the new proposal. The Fadnavis Government will have to keep up dialogue with these and other political parties, to create a consensus over the bill, so that coming development infrastructure projects are not mired in legal tangles and political opportunism.