On Sunday, Maharashtra’s new chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray, announced that his government will review several big-ticket infrastructure projects announced by the previous government. The coastal road project connecting south Mumbai with the city’s western suburbs, the Nagpur Samruddhi Corridor, and a bridge on the Thane Creek are reportedly under the state government’s scanner. The Maharashtra government has stayed plans for a metro car shed in Aarey and Thackeray has expressed reservations about the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train project. In all, about Rs 7 trillion is at stake in these ventures. The Maharashtra CM’s doubts about them do not augur well for investor sentiment.
The Shiv Sena has come to office after an acrimonious parting of ways with its long-time alliance partner, the BJP. The mandate in the October election was, arguably, for the pre-poll alliance comprising the BJP and the Sena. But it is the Sena’s once-traditional rivals, the NCP and the Congress, that are now the party’s partners in government. Thackeray will understandably be under pressure from his new allies. But the litmus test in governance is adherence to due process. Maharashtra’s new CM would be well-advised to not let the bitterness with his former alliance partner come in the way of his policy decisions. On several schemes under his government’s scanner — including the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train — Thackeray has assured “that a review does not mean that the projects will be axed”. But his government’s reservations about projects that the Sena was a party to in the first place — as part of the Devendra Fadnavis government between 2014 and 2019 — is bound to raise eyebrows. The Shiv Sena-led government must avoid the path taken by the YSR Congress government in Telangana — cancelling projects for no other reason but that they were initiated by its predecessor.
Thackeray has also said that his government will review the cases against Dalit activists in the Bhima Koregaon case. In January 2018, violence after an event to commemorate 200 years of a historic battle in Bhima Koregaon had left one person dead and several injured. The state government, wary of the political implications of targeting a celebration of Dalit pride, read a Maoist conspiracy into the violence and branded a number of students, intellectuals and social activists as urban Naxals. The onus was on the government to prove that it had a reasonable case against the accused — in a reasonable time-frame. By all accounts, it has failed to do so. The Thackeray government must let the rule book do the talking on this issue. At the same time, it must eschew any provocation to be arbitrary in all policy matters involving its predecessor.