Shiv Sena: Pragmatic Pursuits
News analysis

Shiv Sena: Pragmatic Pursuits

K. Gopalakrishnan

The new political alliance is proving that it is cohesive and willing to accommodate the suggestions of alliance partners by taking positions to build a positive image of Maha Aghadi.  There were speculations about the stand of the Sena on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) when it came up before Parliament. These became intense when the Shiv Sena members voted in favour of CAB in the Lok Sabha on the political position of Sena in the Upper House on the crucial issue of secularism.

With Rahul Gandhi making it clear that abstention would have been better, only added to the special interest on the matter in the BJP camp. Some in the Congress camp too were rather apprehensive about Sena pursuing a different line on the issue as it could have repercussions in the grand old party, known for its age-old approach towards secular values. Perhaps Uddhav Thackeray, who prefers a calm and soft approach on highly sensitive and controversial issues, carried the day when the party walked out of the Rajya Sabha avoiding the voting. At the same time, to keep tiger cubs in the party in good humour, its emerging theoretician, Sanjay Raut, explaining the position after the voting said, “We don’t need any certificate to prove how patriotic and how staunch Hindus we are.” A clear message to the BJP bosses who took a strong position to deny the chief ministership of Maharashtra to the Shiv Sena recently.

By taking different positions in two houses of the Parliament, Sena leadership has made it clear that it has a flexible position to keep the new alliance united and by meeting the suggestion of Rahul Gandhi’s position half way, a message was sent that it will do its best to strengthen the alliance on its part. To the BJP, the message appeared to be that on Hindutva and other policies its stand was different earlier too and it has not shied away from expressing it though it did embarrass the BJP on a number of occasions in the past year or so.

The situation is also different. The Shiv Sena after being humiliated by the Parivar bosses is now ruling Maharashtra. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra is an important person not just in the state but holds a formidable position in the country..  The state is politically important. It unique position in the nation’s economy is also significant. Bombay is the financial capital of the country. Perhaps due to these factors the BJP leaders were unwilling to give up this high office as it did not want any political party, not just the Shiv Sena, to rob this powerful office from the saffron party.

It is clear in the last few days Uddhav Thackeray is aware of the importance of the high office he is holding and is keen to provide better governance to the state.  Already he has started demanding the due for the state from the Centre, not so specifically demanded in the last few years. He has asked Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman to release Rs.15,558 Cr pending dues to the State, including GST compensation. He has pointed out that delayed release will impact the development work in Maharashtra.

Though new to the governance and art of getting the dues from Centre in his letter to the Finance Minister, Uddhav said, “As per the Union Budget 2019-20 the tax devolution was Rs. 46,630.66 Cr which is 11.15 per cent more than Rs. 41,952.65 Cr received by the state during 2018-19. But, the State has received only Rs.20, 254.92 Cr till October 2019 which is 25.53 per cent compared to the budget estimate……So instead of receiving an enhanced amount, the State has received less than the budgeted amount. With further slowing of the economy during the second quarter, it is likely that there will be a further reduction in tax devolution”. He seems to be picking up fast though a novice to the administrative and financial arenas.  It could also be because there are many in the bureaucracy giving him the correct guidance, due to political reasons or his own leadership qualities and suave manners. Or there are many experts in the Shiv Sena think tank who are providing the needed inputs to the Chief Minister, who is almost a fresher to the demands of the office.

Having had a bitter experience with the BJP, it is also possible that Thackeray is determined to make the new alliance a success.  He must also be aware that the three constituents of Maha Aghadi belong to different schools and ideologies, though Indian National Congress and Nationalist Congress Party have a common origin. But the fact remains that there are many conflicting interests guided by different ideologies and value systems. To lead such a coalition is not easy for even an experienced veteran. The task before Uddhav is not easy. Of course, he has by his side Sharad Pawar, who is also keen to make the new experiment a success and try it out later at the national level, a patriarch known for managing conflicts and contradictions.  Obviously his effort would be to make the Maharashtra government under Thackeray a model state government. The majority in the Congress too are for the success of the new experiment. In short, there are many who wish well for Maha Aghadi in the state unlike in some other experiments.

It is known to all that in the three constituent parties there are elements who do not share the optimism of those who formed the new political front. BJP leadership cannot be also expected to wish well for the new occupant in Mumbai’s Sachivalaya. Perhaps aware of all these Uddhav Thackeray is moving cautiously but taking steady steps, after due consideration. CAB was a difficult situation and the first major challenge for the Aghadi. That has been managed. But to move ahead would mean anticipating the counter moves of New Delhi and Nagpur. Perhaps that would be a bigger threat than managing the constituent partners who have come together mainly due to a common enemy. At least until the enemy is alive and kicking, front management may not be so challenging.