The BJP-Shiv Sena government, which completed 100 days in office Saturday, may look stable, but power struggles within the alliance, including among senior BJP leaders, are likely to keep Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on his toes.
Though the chief minister has taken a few initiatives in key sectors like industry, agriculture, power and infrastructure, he still has to contend with political pinpricks from ally Sena and even from leaders of his own party BJP.
Fadnavis, however, maintains that “all is well”. On Saturday, he even posed for a picture perfect with senior cabinet ministers of BJP and Shiv Sena. “The government is working as a team. Welfare of people is the mantra,” he said.
Pictures apart, Shiv Sena’s discomfiture at being forced to play a second fiddle is evident in Uddhav Thackeray’s recent warning to Fadnavis not to take their support for granted. In an apparent tactical move, the Sena has ensured that its senior ministers like Subash Desai and Deepak Sawant, known as sober voices, adopt a supporting role while aggressive leaders like Ramdas Kadam and Diwakar Raote voice their dissent periodically to pre-empt what the party perceives as BJP’s efforts to dominate the political space.
“Our dissent is often a reminder to the BJP that we are equal partners in policy-making and power-sharing. The view at the Sena headquarters is that Maharashtra has a stable government because of Sena.”
However, the BJP does not seem too worried, knowing well that it’s also Sena’s political compulsion to remain in power both at the Centre and in the state. The Sena realises that if it breaks away, the NCP may be only too willing to step in to provide outside support.
State BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari says the real challenge for the government was to tackle the fiscal position and what he terms as an incompetent and corrupt bureaucracy. “As far as Sena is concerned, they are allies. And coalition has its own limitations,” he said.
Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who led the previous Congress-NCP government, sounded a warning. “The coalition governments have in-built problems. Sena-BJP differences are already out in public.”
According to state Congress chief Manikrao Thakre, the greater political threat to Fadnavis is from the BJP. “Even after three months, some BJP leaders are not willing to accept his leadership in government,” he said.
What is unsettling for the BJP is the recurring protests from its senior-most BJP minister Eknath Khadse, who has never let go of a single opportunity to assert his political shrewdness when it comes to decision-making either in the state Assembly or within the party. Whether it was getting his loyalist Smita Wagh elected as MLC or elevating himself to the leader of state Legislative Council, Khadse had his way.
The other two senior ministers, Vinod Tawde and Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, appear more cautious while displaying their political upmanship against Fadnavis.
Both Sena and BJP leaders admitted that problems between the two allies could multiply with the onset of local bodies elections leading to the 2017 BMC polls.
While the BJP hopes to consolidate its gains to capture India’s richest municipal corporation, Sena would like to reassert its hold on Mumbai. Yet, both are confident that government would be stable, given that both Congress and NCP are struggling to keep their house in order.