Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray says listening to his alliance partners ‘does not amount to coming under pressure’
On November 28, 2019, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra after a dramatic turn of events. The Sena, a long-time ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), opted to part ways and joined hands with unlikely allies in the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Mr. Uddhav Thackeray also became the first Thackeray to hold a legislative post, breaking with the party’s previous tradition of extending control from the outside.
Seen as inexperienced in handling administration, Mr. Thackeray faced the challenge of a pandemic in his first year of office. Attacked incessantly by the Opposition BJP and tasked with handling two allies, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance completes one year in office on Saturday. The Hindu’s Alok Deshpande spoke to Mr. Thackeray on the subject of his inexperience; the BJP’s constant attacks; attempts to destabilise his government; and whether he would complete the term of five years.
The tripartite MVA government completes one year in office today. From an unlikely alliance with the Congress and the NCP to entering legislature for the first time, how did this year go?
Today, we complete one year in this government which was formed unexpectedly. Nobody had imagined its formation, and once formed, there were doubts as to whether it would run. Moreover, many had reservations about me since I had no experience of running an administration. Thanks to my colleagues — Sharad Pawar-ji, Sonia Gandhi-ji — we did run it. People overwhelmingly welcomed this experiment. Irrespective of the pandemic, it was as a collective effort that this government performed its duties.
You mentioned you lacked administrative experience. How difficult was it to run the alliance government?
I may not have been in the chair [of Chief Minister] before, but I did know what power means and how it functions. The only difference for me is that I now sit in this chair, and instead of asking or demanding from someone, I take the decisions. I always believe in team work. This will continue in future as well. It was alleged that I buckle under pressure from my two allies. They are my colleagues in the government. Listening to them does not amount to coming under pressure. I also heard the criticism that a coterie of IAS officials has surrounded me. What are they for, if they don’t surround me? We need to take their [civil servants’] cooperation in running the government and the administration [bureaucracy] has supported me from Day 1.
You are subjected to continuous attacks from the opposition BJP, both in your capacity as CM and as the Shiv Sena chief. Your Minister son Aaditya Thackeray, and wife Rashmi, have also come under attack. How do you respond?
We never played the politics of perverseness; never launched personal attacks against the families, sons and wives of Opposition members; never attempted to destroy their lives. I targeted [PM Narendra] Modi and [Union Home Minister] Shah on policy and not on personal issues. This is not my Hindutva. My Hindutva is cultured. The party which allows such perverseness should never talk about Hindutva. I follow the Hindutva of my father and grandfather. What they [the BJP] claim to be practising is not Hindutva but deceit. They are a blot on Hindutva.
Does that mean you have permanently cut-off ties with the BJP?
You are asking me about what will happen after four years. I always wonder how we [the Shiv Sena] remained allies for 25 years with someone [the BJP] who shows such perverseness. How can there be an alliance if their civility is replaced by perversity?
Will the MVA remain united in the upcoming Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls?
Yes. We will be fighting the polls as an alliance. We successfully formed the alliance after the poll in 2019. We stand together today. We will fight as the MVA in the upcoming civic polls.
The BJP has already begun preparations to dethrone the Shiv Sena in the BMC. What about your preparations?
It seems the BJP desperately needs to win Mumbai to stand on its feet once again. After all, the greed to win Mumbai will continue to remain, no matter how many States you win. And yes, it hurts them that Mumbai remains to be won. They tried last time as well. This time, it will be three of us [the MVA partners]. Mumbai stands with the Shiv Sena, will remain so.
Did you anticipate trouble from the Central government when you were sworn in, a year ago? Are Central agencies interfering in the State’s functioning?
Should that even be a question in a democratic republic? We all, including the Prime Minister, have assumed our offices after taking an oath. Our States were divided on linguistic basis. How come we see them divided on the basis of which political party rules where now? Our troubles are of the level of perversity. But people are watching it. They don’t like it. Our response is going to be cultured. And let me be very clear — history has shown us that whenever there is conflict between these two sides, the cultured side has always won.
The Maharashtra Governor is yet to clear the list of 12 Council Members submitted to him by the State Cabinet. What is the reason? Have you spoken to him?
We, as a State Cabinet, have sent him the list. I have not heard anything about it since then. We expect that the decorum of democracy should be maintained. After all, the Governor’s rights, prestige and intent are three important things here.
BJP MLAs have been openly claiming that the government will fall in the next two months. Is your government in danger?
The BJP has no option but to say this, to keep its flock together. This hope will keep BJP MLAs going. There is no other reason.
COVID-19 covered almost 70% of your first year in office. Did you have any plans which could not materialise because of it?
The Assembly budget session had to be curtailed due to the pandemic. We had to rush for relief work immediately, followed by the entire focus shifting to enhancing health facilities. It is clear that [we] will have to focus more on building health infrastructure, improve the present condition of hospitals, ensure supply of medicines, and appoint experts. This will definitely reflect in the next budget, but we have also started implementing many of these projects.
The Opposition is presently targeting your government over inflated power bills. Your party had promised concessions but this has not been fulfilled.
The Shiv Sena manifesto had promised concession in power bills. It was a poll promise which will be fulfilled. We never knew that the COVID situation will turn out like this, affecting the State’s resources. But let me assure you that our promise is not like the “Achche din” jumla. We would have extended benefits had it not been for the coronavirus. We did announce a farm loan waiver. We did provide Shiv bhojan plates as promised. We will fulfil other promises as well.
What is the status on the Maratha reservation issue and when will it be sorted out?
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the matter in front of a bigger Bench. We are appealing to the court to take up the matter at the earliest. It is up to them to decide. Not only the issue of Maratha reservation, but all issues concerned with reservations from different parts of the country, are pending. We are in talks with organisations. We all stand together.