Exactly six months ago, when the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) agreed to form a coalition government in Maharashtra under the Shiv Sena’s leadership, both allies knew that it would take a Herculean effort to run such an odd government for five years.
Considering their extreme ideological differences, all three parties took a painstakingly long time to come up with a common minimum programme.
Once that was decided, leaders of all three parties vouched to run the government successfully for five years and keep the BJP, which had emerged as the single-largest party by winning 105 seats despite contesting only 164 out of 288 legislative assembly seats, out of the power.
However, it appears that the honeymoon period among Maharashtra’s ruling parties was short-lived.
The state government has not been able to stop the onslaught of Covid-19 cases despite all its efforts, which seems to have weakened the alliance. At the moment, the chief minister appears to be fighting a lone battle with none of the prominent leaders from the alliance willing to share the responsibility of the failure to control the insidious pandemic.
Maharashtra currently has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in India. With over 53,000 cases and 1,695 deaths so far, the state accounts for nearly third of total infections and deaths reported in the country.
Mumbai, the state capital and the country’s financial centre, is facing the worst situation with over 1,000 deaths.
Government and civic hospitals are overflowing with patients and even private hospitals are struggling to cope with the challenge. In such a situation, Mr Thackeray is unwilling to relax the lockdown. However, the NCP wants the government to allow some industries to resume activities.
The Sharad Pawar-led party thinks that the continuation of stringent lockdown will build public opinion against the government. However, Mr Thackeray is unwilling to yield.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s statement that his party was not the key decision maker in Maharashtra has added further fuel to the fire. Congress leaders have been complaining that the chief minister does not consult them for key decisions.
Soon after the Congress leader’s statement, Mr Thackeray spoke to him over the telephone and assured him that the Congress was an equal partner in the government.
As the fissures in the ruling alliance have become visible, the BJP has started mounting pressure on Mr Thackeray and accusing him of lacking leadership abilities
. First, state BJP president Chandrakant Patil publicly said that the chief minister had left everything to the bureaucracy, which is running the government at present.
Subsequently, several BJP leaders met the governor separately and asked him to intervene on the ground that the state government has failed to handle the pandemic.
BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Narayan Rane further stepped up the attack and demanded President’s rule in the state. While former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis did not agree with Mr Rane’s demand, he said that the chief minister was unwilling to take any bold decision to tackle the pandemic as he probably fears failure.
Though BJP leaders have maintained that they will not do anything to topple the Thackeray government, only the politically naïve will believe them.
The sequence of events clearly shows BJP’s strategy to gradually intensify its attack on Mr Thackeray and portray him as a weak and insecure leader before it tries to implement ‘Operation Lotus’ in Maharashtra. In these difficult times, Mr Thackeray will need his alliance partners firmly behind him.
If the ruling parties fail to have each other’s backs, they have no right to accuse the Opposition of destabilising the government.