The ‘Boss’ Game
Politics is a strange game, a wonderful leveller and the art of making the impossible possible, as evidenced by the incredible political drama in Maharashtra in recent days. Maharashtra’s political Mahabharat fought like a game of chess and was staged like a gripping Bollywood thriller that kept the nation enthralled for last week. A week is a long time in politics, but in Maharashtra’s fractured politics, it has borne an unexpected outcome. Shiv Sena Member of Legislative Assembly and long-time Thackeray family loyalist Eknath Shinde’s rebellion — an attempted coup, if you will — to take over the party and sideline the founding family, was only the first act of a long drama that unfolded in the country’s richest state, recently. After a week-long drama that unfolded in the state, Uddhav Thackrey finally resigned, accepting that he doesn’t have the numbers in the assembly. Rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde was sworn-in as the next Maharashtra Chief Minister. In a joint press conference, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Devendra Fadnavis said the expansion of the cabinet will be decided upon after further discussions. Fadnavis initially said that he himself will not be a part of the cabinet, but on persuasion by senior leaders, he joined as Deputy CM.
Shinde, the strongman from Thane, has snatched almost the entire legislative party of the Shiv Sena from under the nose of Thackerays. Nobody in the Sena would have even dared and/or dreamt of achieving this feat. Exploiting a loophole in the anti-defection law, the Shinde camp has not merged with any other party and now claims to be the real Sena. He enjoys two-thirds support of MLAs belonging to the Shiv Sena, thus making him eligible to remain the legislature party leader (matter is sub-judice now).
The BJP, livid with Uddhav for not honouring the agreement way back in 2019, wants to exact maximum revenge. It seems that they will not be content with Uddhav’s resignation but would go for the kill, trying to finish off the political career of the Thackerays. All doors of a rapprochement with the BJP now seem closed for Thackerays.
So, what exactly happened between the Shiv Sena – BJP alliance, most popularly known as ‘Yuti’ in Maharashtra? What led to alliance breakup in 2019 and how Eknath Sinde becoming the CM will change Maharashtra’s politics for the next decade? The stake was not limited to Maharashtra, nor was it limited to the dramatis personae in the state. Command and control button of this high-volatage drama was in Delhi, with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
During Balasaheb’s era in Shiv sena, there use to be a tradition that the BJP leaders use to visit him at his residence Matoshree in Bandra. Even senior leaders like Vajpayee and Advani use to visit him. But Balasaheb never visited any BJP office/leader. After the death of Balasaheb, Uddhav wanted that to continue.
On 6th June 2018, Amit Shah visited Matoshree as the relationship between the two allies was getting bitter post by-poll elections. Amit Shah discussed with Uddhav regarding his problems and did everything possible to keep alliance intact, as 2019 General Elections were approaching.
If media reports of that time are to be seen, then the arrogance of Uddhav Thackeray will clearly be observed by the readers. Firstly, he wanted Amit Shah to visit Matoshree, then in that same meeting he asks then Chief Minister to sit outside and doesn’t allow him to be a part of the discussion.
Uddhav’s arrogance was beyond control for BJP. Again, in Feb 2019, it was Amit Shah who was asked to visit Matoshree to finalise the alliance between Shiv sena and the BJP for 2019 Lok Sabha Polls. It was at this meeting, where Uddhav put a condition on BJP that if they want an alliance in Lok Sabha then they have to have an alliance for upcoming state election. Even after the Lok Sabha victory, Uddhav started abusing BJP top leadership and once again, he asked Amit Shah to visit Matoshree to resolve the tussle.
Post 2019, Amit Shah had emerged as one of the top leaders in the country, but yet, he is so humble to keep alliance partners happy. 26th October 2019, when Shiv sena-BJP alliance won the state assembly elections in the state, they had almost 170/288 MLA. Now post victory, Uddhav refused to talk with BJP leaders from Maharashtra and Shiv sena was constant attacking the BJP. Once again Amit Shah was summoned to Matoshree.
This time, Amit Shah decided not to visit Matoshree, as the war of words got to ferocious and insulting towards the BJP leaders. For the dignity of the party, he called off the meeting and this is where, BJP decided not to negotiate any further with Shiv sena, and decided to let Shiv sena take their own path.
8th Nov 2019, once again Uddhav Thackeray full of arrogance makes public statement that it was Amit Shah who came to persuade me, I never went to him. Uddhav left no opportunity to insult Amit Shah, Modi and Fadnavis. Alliance was now clearly broken. Clearly, the onus of thius break-up lies with Uddhav.
On 13th Nov 2019, Shivam Vij writes an article that Shiv sena, NCP and Congress are walking into BJP’s trap. This indeed was a trap, if one looks at it today in 2022. So, Amit Shah had decided that let them form an alliance and we will wait for the right time. On 29 Nov 2019, Maha Vikas Aghadhi was formed.
In Feb 2021, Amit Shah openly said that if we had treaded from Shiv sena on 2014 then Shiv sena’s existence would have drastically reduced in Maharashtra. So, it’s now Uddhav vs Amit Shah, where Amit Shah representing BJP in this power tussle. So, what Amit Shah does next is very interesting.
On 21st June 2022, Eknath Shinde went absconding along with 12 MLA and it started an internal rebellion within Shiv sena. Later, Shinde managed to gather 50 MLA from Shiv sena and supporting independent MLAs.
Sena tried to negotiate with Shinde, offered him the CM post but he denied. Shiv sena started accusing BJP for this political chaos in the state. Eknath Shinde could have joined the BJP or form another party, but he kept on saying that he is the real Shiv sena formed by Balasaheb and on the other side, Uddhav was getting sidelined in his own party.
Arrogance of Uddhav is now badly collapsing. Shiv sena accused and abused Devendra Fadnavis for being power hungry who initiated this rebellion within Shiv sena. But this story took another twist which has now put Maharashtra politics on another level. BJP made Eknath Shinde the Chief Minister of the state on the Hindutva agenda.
BJP has now shown that they still respect Balasaheb’s Shiv sena and they have made a foot soldier of Balasaheb as Chief Minister. This decision would be welcomed by most of the Shivsainiks and the anger against BJP will subside soon. Lot of Shivsainik will sooner or later join Shinde.
Uddhav Thackeray faction of Shiv sena will be sooner or later become irrelevant in Maharashtra. Sena will soon lose BMC and TMC which was its major cash cow. Matoshree used to take a cut in every deal, now even that will stop. So, now Uddhav has no power and flow of money has stopped.
Due to this decision, Congress and NCP have been completely sidelined and nullified in this battle. Sharad Pawar has no relevance in Maharashtra politics which is now once again proven. BJP’s position will further strengthen in the state and most leaders from Cong-NCP will shift towards the BJP in future.
Uddhav always wanted Amit Shah to visit Matoshree and accept his demands but now Eknath Shinde will visit Delhi and negotiate with Amit Shah. Amit Shah has clearly won the battle with Uddhav Thackeray and once again he has shown who the boss in this game is.
But what about Devendra?
Over the last few months the BJP stalwart from the state, Devendra Fadnavis, has emerged as a master strategist—the Amit Shah of Maharashtra. First, he rocked the state assembly with a barrage of pen drives whose contents rattled the top guns of MVA leadership. Then came the Rajya Sabha elections in which Fadnavis sensed the opportunity of BJP wresting an extra seat. The party fielded three candidates instead of two sure winners and all three romped home, much to the dismay and discomfiture of Uddhav Thackeray and his new-found political partners. Then came the BJP’s resounding success in the Legislative Council polls, masterminded by Fadnavis, followed up by this master stroke in tandem with Eknath Shinde. Devendra Fadnav not being the CM, was a shock for everybody, whether a BJP supporter or not. But this will further strengthen BJP’s position in the state; it will now get the edge in perception battle and information warfare. Hindutva will also strengthen further in state.
Regardless of how the entire drama unfolded, one thing is clear. At the popular level, the MVA coalition evokes widespread resentment and as many say the payback is purely Karmic. People cite the instances of the killings of sadhus in Palghar, the demolition of a portion of a building owned by actress Kangana Ranaut, the relentless harassment of Republic Media’s Editor, Arnab Goswami, and the arrest of Marathi actress Ketaki Chitale, who was in custody for 40 days, apart from numerous misdeeds led by former Commissioner of Mumbai Police, Parambir Singh and notorious cop Sachin Vaze—all of which have been widely reported by the media.
Most recently, in a ridiculous turn of events, the Uddhav government arrested MP Navneet Rana and her husband for their plan to recite the Hanuman Chalisa in front of the Chief Minister’s house! To compound his woes, two of Uddhav’s cabinet colleagues, Anil Deshmukh and Nawab Malik, find themselves facing serious charges slapped by the Enforcement Directorate on them.
One cannot deny the fact that no tears are being shred for Uddhav because the mess in Maharashtra and two and a half years of misrule have to be squarely attributed to him. Everybody but Uddhav seemed to be calling the shots. Mercifully, the drama has ended and hopefully we will soon see the dignity of popular mandate in Maharashtra restored.
By Nilabh Krishna