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The challenges before Uddhav

Though Prime Minister Modi has congratulated the new chief minister, it remains to be seen whether the bitterness of parting company with the BJP will linger.

Kalyani Shankar | New Delhi |

The first ever Thackeray rule has just begun in Maharashtra. From a reluctant politician to chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray has come a long way since he took over in 2012 after the death of his father and Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray. He has himself admitted that he never dreamt of becoming the chief minister. So far, the Thackeray family has run a powerful political party without contesting elections themselves. Balasaheb had once told me he had taken three decisions – he would not contest elections, he would not write his autobiography, and would not take any government post – and he had stuck to all three till the end.

But he was Balasaheb! He often used to quip that he ruled the state with a remote in his hands. The youngest Thackeray, Aaditya broke that trend in the 2019 Assembly polls and now Uddhav who also has to be elected soon. The Sena chief was not keen to become the chief minister, as he has some health problems and cannot work for long hours, which the top post demands, but Sharad Pawar persuaded him to accept the post. Now that he has taken the plunge he faces a number of challenges, as the road ahead is not all that smooth. The past month had shown a lot of tough negotiations on power-sharing with the partners.

The first challenge will be to keep his flock together as the BJP is waiting to see cracks in the coalition. The same applies to the other two coalition partners. The second is the issue of cabinet formation. There are many aspirants in the coalition who might create trouble if they don’t get a berth. Though it is the problem of his partners to pacify their rebels, keeping the ministers in line is also going to be a tough job. The third is the smooth running of the government and for this keeping the coalition intact is very important. Politically, Uddhav has taken a big decision by joining hands with the Congress and the NCP.

Now that he has been catapulted into the top position, will he be able to run the ragtag coalition, with its inherent contradictions? Also he must be watchful of the Congress, which is known for pulling the rug in the past. Fourthly, his biggest challenge is his lack of experience in running the administration. This is where he has to depend on senior and experienced legislators from the coalition. Choosing proper advisers and trusted bureaucrats to run the government is crucial. NCP chief Sharad Pawar was the one who stitched the coalition and Uddhav may depend on him to run the government as well as in dealing with the allies.

Will Sharad now hold the remote in his hands? Fifthly, the Sena is known for its hard Hindutva stand. Uddhav has the difficult task of explaining to the party about the latest political realignment, now that he has consciously decided to go the soft secular way. How can he explain to his workers who had been fighting the NCP and the Congress all along to work with them? The toplevel bonhomie need not necessarily percolate to the cadres as was seen in the Karnataka model experimented by the JD (S) and the Congress last year. Will his base shrink because of this dilution?

The sixth is the implementation of the Common Minimum Programme, which should be the bible of the Uddhav government. After all the three different parties have come together on this basis. It is important to address issues like the economy, agriculture, farmer’s woes and jobs. Tackling rural distress is a big challenge and so is job creation. The tricky issue is adhering to secularism. This might be difficult for the party known for its Hindutva ideology. The very first sentence of the CMP says that it will adhere to the virtues enshrined in the Constitution including secularism.

If Sena goes out of this line, there will be problems. The seventh is Uddhav’s relationship with the Centre. Though Prime Minister Modi has congratulated the new chief minister, it remains to be seen whether the bitterness of parting company with the BJP will linger. The eighth and most important one is the strong opposition he will face in the Assembly. With its 105 legislators in the house, the BJP could play the role of a tough opposition. It will also bide its time to see whether the coalition develops cracks.

After outmaneuvering the BJP, Uddhav has the big challenge of proving his credentials as a leader who can navigate a new political path with ideologically different parties like the Congress and the NCP. To be fair, one cannot write off Uddhav even before he began his regime. Who knows? Just as he has turned out to be successful Shiv Sena chief, he might prove to be a successful chief minister if he plays his cards well!