This Article is From Jul 26, 2022

Opinion: The Reason Why Eknath Shinde's MLAs Are Now Spamming Him

Maharashtra has had a two-man cabinet for 26 days, or since June 30, when Eknath Shinde of the breakaway Shiv Sena took the oath of office alongside new partner Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP.

Eknath Shinde and Fadnavis teamed up to topple the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government by pulling Sena legislators away from Thackeray.

The duo seemingly had it easy while bringing down the Thackeray government with a combination of investigative agency threats and ministry offers that sent Sena MLAs running to the BJP's arms. But the after-party was short-lived.

The problem? Literally a division of the spoils. In their haste to topple Uddhav Thackeray's government, Shinde and Fadnavis made big promises to the defectors. Delivery is proving to be difficult, with an impatient "big brother" BJP demanding a bigger share of the goodies.

Fadnavis, who was Chief Minister in the last BJP-Shiv Sena government, was forced to swallow his pride and he reluctantly came on board as deputy to Shinde (who had earlier worked under him) after he was told by BJP president JP Nadda that it was not an offer he could refuse. Amit Shah, Union Home Minister, told Fadnavis that not joining the Shinde government could be a career limiting move for him, sources say. Shah advised Fadnavis to prove his generosity and give stability to the Shinde government, keeping his hopes alive with the assurance that politics is never short of surprises.

The central BJP was worried about Fadnavis becoming a rival power centre in Mumbai. Fadnavis is now on board, but the sharing and caring is not happening, yet. As a consequence, India's second most industrialised state, Maharashtra, is virtually being run by two men. With no cabinet in place, a decision to cut trees in the Aarey forest in Mumbai for a controversial car shed project has been cleared. Thackeray had nixed the project saying it was environmentally untenable.

The two-man cabinet has been making frequent trips (five at the last count) to Delhi to get Shah and Nadda to break the deadlock over portfolios, with little success so far.

Shinde is adamant about controlling the "big" portfolios like the Public Works Department, Home and Finance. Fadnavis, settling for the number two spot, needs his flex - a meaty portfolio.

The BJP is single largest in the Maharashtra assembly and sections of the party opposed to Shinde are already carping about zero accountability and zero power with the BJP. "Fadnavis koh toh lal batti mil gayi, hamara kya (Fadnavis has got his VVIP beacon but what about us"), a BJP MLA said to me.

Fadnavis and Shinde are also spending hours with their legal eagles as the Uddhav Thackeray faction files cases in the Supreme Court challenging the legality of the new government. The Thackeray faction is fighting for the bow and arrow symbol of the Shiv Sena.

After enabling what appeared to be a bloodless coup, Shinde's MLAs are getting antsy, waiting for their rewards. A group of 40 defectors, including eight ministers, have all been promised a status upgrade. Shinde is now fielding daily calls from the MLAs who powered his coup.

The Maharashtra assembly session is likely to start in August and both Shinde and Fadnavis would like to have a cabinet in place by then.

The all-important elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the richest corporation in the country with an annual budget of Rs 45,000 crore, is coming up. This will be the first electoral face-off between the Thackeray Sena and the Shinde Sena, and both sides will be pulling out all the stops.

A senior leader of the Thackeray faction scoffed, "Sarkar toh banti nahi, BMC jeetenge (they can't even form a government and they dream of winning BMC)."

Of course, there's many a slip...

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.