There was an explosion of “Marathiyat” at the chief minister’s secretariat the day Uddhav Thackeray took charge in Mumbai. The Sena chief was given a welcome like no other chief minister has received ever. All the officers lined up to greet him. Women officials were dressed in traditional nine-yard Maharashtrian saris. Thackeray was garlanded while the women welcomed him with an arti. Oldtimers said they had never seen anything like this before.
What was interesting was the expression of Marathi pride through dress and forms of greeting. It was as if officials at the Mantralaya felt that they were finally getting a homespun Marathi chief minister. It’s not that the previous incumbent Devendra Fadnavis is not a Marathi. But he is a Brahmin and the fact that the BJP is now controlled by two Gujaratis made him seem somewhat an outsider. This is the explanation that is being given by political circles in Mumbai to make sense of the Marathi-ness that was on display for Thackeray.
It also fits in with the new “Maharashtra first” plank on which the Sena- NCP-Congress have joined hands. In a way, Sena has gone back to its origins. After all, the party was formed in the 1960s to fight the domination of south Indians and Gujaratis in Mumbai and assert Marathi pride.
It seems PM Modi’s powerful principal secretary P K Mishra has had his way with the appointment of Anil Mukim as the new chief secretary of Gujarat. For the past few weeks, there’s been an ongoing silent tussle between Mishra and Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani over the choice of officer for this important post. Rupani was pitching to retain J N Singh as chief secretary while Mishra is believed to have been wanting Singh in Delhi.
Mishra had the edge because Singh was on extension and state rules do not permit a second extension. However, that did not stop Rupani from wanting Singh to stay on. He had apparently requested that the rules be amended to give Singh another extension. Mishra, on the other hand, was keen to shift him to Delhi. Singh is considered an efficient officer and is a trusted Modi loyalist. Interestingly, Singh is a graduate of the much-reviled Jawaharlal Nehru University, as are finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and foreign minister S Jaishankar.
So, another JNU alumnus may find a berth in Lutyens’ power corridors. There is no word so far on a Delhi assignment for Singh but BJP circles believe that if Mishra wants him in the Capital, he will make his way here soon enough.
Old hands kept out
It is curious that through the entire post-poll political drama in Maharashtra, three old hands from the state were kept out of the deliberations and consultations. Nagpur strongman Nitin Gadkari, Prakash Javadekar and Piyush Goyal are all from Maharashtra and know the state well. In fact, Javadekar is an old lieutenant of the late Pramod Mahajan and helped sew up the BJP’s alliance with Shiv Sena back in the 1980s.
Yet, the current high command didn’t feel it necessary to draw him into backroom negotiations with the Sena. Gadkari too knows the Thackeray family well as does Goyal. Neither were asked to step in as relations between the two old friends and allies started fraying. As the BJP’s game plan with Ajit Pawar started unravelling and it became clear that the party had been fooled by the NCP leader, a wag remarked sarcastically, “What do you expect when the management is left to Bhupinder (Yadav), Devendra (Fadnavis) and Maninder (Singh).”
Yadav is Amit Shah’s right-hand man and was parked in Maharashtra for the entire duration of the assembly elections and the one-month-long drama that occurred after the results. Fadnavis was naturally at the epicenter as the chief minister aspirant. Singh is a former additional solicitor general and a junior of Arun Jaitley. The BJP was depending on him for legal advice. It seems all three were quite clueless about the unfolding drama. The old Maharashtra hands kept away studiously although they sensed that things were going wrong.
Different ministries of the government seem to be working at cross-purposes. The absence of consultation and discussion proved embarrassing when the health ministry presented the surrogacy bill for passage in Parliament. The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha. But when it came up for passage in the Rajya Sabha, minister for women and child development Smriti Irani had been alerted to the dangers of its provisions.
It seems Irani’s ministry officials advised her that the bill, as presented by the health ministry, could land the government in a soup as there were sensitive gender issues involved as well as vital inheritance questions. The Rajya Sabha finally referred the bill to a standing committee for further deliberations after Irani flagged her ministry’s concerns to MPs.