As Mumbai heads to become the world's Number One Covid hotspot, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the main opposition party in Maharashtra, has relaunched "Operation Lotus" to bring down the government of Uddhav Thckeray.
Senior sources confirmed to me that Amit Shah, Union Home Minister, has now accelerated attempts to force an end to the Thackeray-Pawar-Congress government which is struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic in India's financial capital.
Shah, known for great focus in settling political scores, holds a particularly big grudge against Thackeray for ending the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance and managing then to outwit Shah and Devendra Fadnavis to come to power.
This morning, Pawar met with Uddhav Thackeray - allegedly a stock-taking session. Sources say that Pawar proffered administrative advice on tackling the public health emergency, expressed particular concern at the spread of the infectious pandemic in Mumbai and warned that the BJP is trying to "destabilise" the alliance government. Pawar, a capricious ally, did not expand on his own intentions.
Pawar has been sending mixed signals for a while about how invested he remains in the ruling coalition. His close aide and senior party leader Praful Patel has publicly praised union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal for his handling of trains for migrant workers in Bombay. This thumbs up was given even as Piyush Goyal publicly slugged it out with Uddhav Thackeray and son, Aaditya Thackeray, over how trains are being organized for the lakhs of stranded workers.
Sanjay Raut, senior Sena leader, immediately took to Twitter post the Pawar-Thackeray meet to say all is well with the government. The repeated reiterations of the good health of the Thackeray-led government by Sena leaders has created a huge buzz to the contrary. In politics, the moment a rumour is officially denied, it gains real momentum.
The BJP, both at the centre and in Maharashtra, is unabashedly playing power politics in the time of a pandemic. The concerted effort is visible. Goyal has publicly attacked Thackeray for alleging that Mumbai is not being given enough trains to take migrants home. Thackeray Junior in an interview to NDTV castigated the opposition for spreading disinformation and "hate" on social media.
The infamous IT cell of the BJP is running a well-organised systematic campaign against the Thackeray government, attacking it daily on the spread of the coronavirus. Before this, a communal campaign complete with hashtags was launched after two sadhus (holy men) were murdered in Palghar last month on April 16. The Thackeray government went to great lengths to establish that the killings were not communal.
The BJP's mouthpieces in the media, the Panna Pramukhs, also obediently launched a campaign on the Palghar murders, attacking Thackeray and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP who has not reconciled to his status as former Chief Minister is attacking the Thackeray government on a daily basis, rushing with memorandums against it to Governor B S Koshyari, a former BJP member who unfailingly lends a sympathetic ear to Fadnavis.
The Modi government has made it plain that it is dissatisfied with the handling of the Covid crisis by opposition-ruled states. So Maharashtra and West Bengal are routinely singled out for alleged mishandling while the centre offers no comment on Gujarat and Bihar which are also unable to tackle the health emergency with any efficacy. It is quite clear that the centre has a different yardstick for BJP-ruled or BJP-allied states.
Exhibit B is Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, who gets away by saying that other states will need his permission to employ workers from UP. The statement is in clear contravention of the constitution; the right to free movement is glossed over by the centre and the tame press.
The BJP has an unbelievable appetite for power and toppling governments. So is the Thackeray government in danger? The signal is still amber, not flashing red. It will depend on Pawar, India's canniest politician, and Thackeray's will to remain in power. The Congress, the third and junior partner in the alliance, is comatose.
As the Covid crisis was building, the BJP toppled the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh. Operation Lotus in Maharashtra is well under way. To stop it from blooming will require Pawar's acumen - unless he too is considering a switch.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.