PIECES OF MY CAREER
I have put together a selection of my most recent and memorable work. I am proud of each and every piece in my Journalist Portfolio and hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. For any inquiries, Do get in touch.
THE DRUG LADY OF MUMBAI
BABY PATANKAR, WHO INTRODUCED MEOW MEOW TO THE CITY AND WAS ARRESTED ON 22 APRIL, IS SAID TO BE WORTH OVER RS 100 CRORE
23 Apr, 2015 - OPEN
Mumbai’s Siddharth Nagar slum, located in Worli, sprawls over a hillock, a place of approximations where people who live in its squalor can look up and see luxury high-rises where flats cost tens of crores. Besides those who live here, few outsiders venture into its serpentine bylanes. Siddharth Nagar has been infamous as a hub for drug trafficking, and the person who lords over this maze of shanties is a 54-year-old woman, Shashikala Ramesh Patankar, aka Baby Patankar. Arrested by the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police on 22 April along with her son Girish and a minor niece near Panvel on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, she was reputedly in control of the city’s market for Meow Meow—as mephedrone is popularly called.
Baby Patankar is said to be the one who launched this drug in Mumbai as an illegal recreational option backed by a supply chain. She has been in the business of drugs for 30 years now, and has survived on the clout of her connections with police and Customs officers, apart from politicians. According to the police, of every 10 drug addicts in Mumbai, eight are on Meow Meow, and all of it can be traced to her network.
However, Patankar and her two sons, Girish and Satish, have been absconding since March, after the police arrested her paramour, Dharmaraj Kalokhe, in a raid that also led to the seizure of 122 kg of Meow Meow, found stored at his residence in Satara. Kalokhe was a senior police constable with the Intelligence wing of the Crime Branch; he had been in a relationship with Patankar for 15 years, almost since he was first posted at Worli Police Station in 1996. He became her business partner to help keep Mumbai, Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat and Delhi supplied with Meow Meow. Police sources say that it was Patankar who snitched on Kalokhe—because he had started storing large quantities of the drug on the sly and pocketing the profits.
Patankar’s arrest, a surprise to many, took quite an effort. A team of 100 policemen was sent crisscrossing the state and country looking for her. They went as far as Surat, Agra and Delhi before she was caught. Says Deepak Humbare, deputy superintendent of police posted at Satara. “I am here with a team, as we also want custody of her.”
Most of Siddharth Nagar’s houses have tin sheets as roofs, but Patankar’s is a plush four-room pucca house. With every household in the area more or less under her thumb, she was running operations with a network of female drug peddlers. “They carry it in their clothes and start dis- robing and accusing us of molestation if we try to stop them,” says a policeman, “And female cops are not too eager to enter the slum… so the trade goes on.”
Siddharth Nagar is not a friendly place. A new face is instantly noted and word spreads quickly. I had visited the slum as a census worker, and many were surprised because they couldn’t remember any such exercise ever being done there.
The trek to Patankar’s house, atop the central hill, involves getting past winding alleys, unfriendly stares, wolf whistles (used as signals) and lewd remarks made from behind closed doors. The reluctance of policewomen to venture here is understandable; the hostility to outsiders, palpable. No one helps with directions, not even when you want to exit the maze. The slumdwellers are beholden to Patankar, after all. She has helped many of them with prompt cash, police cases (even in other parts of the city) and much else.Her influence with local politicians has also helped them get water and power connections, a ration shop in the locality and legal status for their houses.
I find her house shut. It was abandoned after a police raid that netted only an odd 20 gm of Meow Meow.
Baby Patankar settled in Siddharth Nagar after marrying Ramesh Patankar. Called ‘Baby’ by her maternal family, the name stuck. Her brothers too moved to the slum. Police say she was ambitious right from the beginning. She soon became a part of the family’s milk selling business, but its earnings were too meagre for her. Her first step into crime seems to have been a milk adulteration racket. “Her husband and her brother were drug addicts,” says a police source. “She started getting drugs for them from small peddlers. Her earnings went into it. This was probably her first introduction to the world of drug peddling. The adulterated milk business made her rich.”
As her husband’s drug addiction grew, she took charge of the house and threw him and his family out. Shortly after that, she quit the milk business. Her foray into drug peddling began in the mid-80s, selling hashish and brown sugar, but in small quantities. “She kept off the police radar but managed to build a network with peddlers and addicts. That’s how drugs came to Siddharth Nagar,” says the source. “Soon, she decided to expand the business and started selling larger quantities of other banned drugs. She came under the eye of the underworld and established gangs started beating up her peddlers. That’s probably the reason she became a police informer.”
Kalokhe, who joined the police force in 1987, first met Patankar in 1996 when he went to raid her house. As usual, the cops found no evidence of drugs, but he had something new going for him. Posted in Worli, he helped her gain access to other cops across the city’s police stations. Sources say that she always went after the lower rung policemen because she found them easier to cultivate. As her business grew, she bought SUVs and two-wheelers under the guise of running a travel agency, but used these to ferry drugs across Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat.
The police say Meow Meow elevated Patankar to the big league, and what aided her rise, ironically, was the decline of the Mumbai underworld. With most big gangsters in jail or in hiding, Patankar became a sought-after pointsperson for foreign drug lords who wanted access to the city’s market. When it became increasingly difficult to get large quantities of hashish, heroin, LSD or Ecstasy, she turned to Meow Meow. Such was her initiative that she soon had a monopoly on the procuring, stocking and distribution of this synthetic drug, which was cheaper than the others and winning newer and newer addicts by the day.
Patankar is a local celebrity in Siddharth Nagar. “Tai tip-top rehati hai. Sari, gale ka… serial ke maafik hai (She’s always nattily dressed… like a TV serial star),” says Sangeeta, a woman outside a slum shop, before hurrying away. The shopkeeper says it’s unwise for me to hang around the place. “Danger hai. Pakda, toh family kabhi nahi dekhega (There’s danger; if caught, you’ll never see your family again),” he cautions.
The Worli Police Station is close to the slum, and she has been arrested only once before in her 30-odd-year career. That was back in 2001—for selling marijuana. She was granted bail and later acquitted on lack of evidence. After that, she had a free run. Every time there was an order for action against her, Patankar would get a tip-off from someone in the police and she’d either flee or get anticipatory bail.
A policeman who was part of the last raid and does not want to be identified has this tale to recount: “We reached her house and entered it. She slipped out from another door and ran. When she was cornered, she started taking off her clothes and screaming loudly that she was being molested. There was no policewoman with us. We ran away as fast as we could because we could have been attacked by the slumdwellers.”
Patankar was useful as a police informer. In 2011, she helped bust a drug trafficking racket that led to the arrest of Ashok Dhawale, an assistant commissioner of Police, with 2 kg of brown sugar concealed in his official vehicle. She is also said to have trapped for them drug peddlers from Rajasthan, Nimach, Ratlam and Bhawani Mandi in Madhya Pradesh by either posing as a decoy customer or supplying them with information of a deal.
As part of their pressure tactics to nab Patankar, the police had arrested her daughter-in-law Sarika and nephew Upendra Majgaonkar. Another nephew, Manish Majgaonkar, a lawyer, was helping the Mumbai Police because he holds her responsible for his mother’s 1993 murder; speaking to me, he claims that he had recorded his complaint at Dadar Police Station to reopen the murder case. “I saw her kill my mother,” says Manish, “She used our house in Worli Koliwada to store drugs and killed my mother when she objected. She is a dangerous woman. The police had registered a case of abetment to suicide and dowry harassment against my father. He has been absconding since. But no case was registered against Baby.” Her estranged mother-in-law has faced three rounds of questioning by the police, who suspect that the old woman is also part of Patankar’s drug network.
The police estimate Patankar’s net worth at over Rs 100 crore and say she has invested her fortune in real estate. She owns 10 rooms in Siddharth Nagar, several flats in Mumbai and Pune, and a farmhouse in Lonavala, according to the police. Her bank accounts, which have been sealed, were found to have Rs 40 lakh in them, reveals a source. The rest of it will presumably be deployed in an effort to keep her out of prison.
QUARANTEEN WARMLINE’: SMALL STEP, BIG LEAP
A teenager begins a helpline with a difference in India’s big city Mumbai, and warms virtual conversation. Haima Deshpande, journalist and researcher, interviews Tara Dave of Warmline. January 2021.
Sometimes a conversation is all it takes for an idea to be born. Mumbai-based teen Tara Dave started a conversation with a close-knit group of friends on the impact of physical isolation during the Covid-19 lockdown. They knew the enforced social distancing had impacted them emotionally. Though they talked to each other in the early days of the lockdown in India in March 2020, their inability to hang out together and do the things that teens did was beginning to take a toll on their emotional well-being.
Tara Dave, Quaranteen Warmline
Sixteen-year old Tara, a student of Human Behaviour and Cognitive Psychology, was overwhelmed with the desire to do something for teens like her. She had been hearing stories about increased mental ailments and suicides due to frustration from the lockdown. Her conversation with her mentor Dr Priya Narayanan, a clinical psychiatrist, led to the idea of a warmline for teens, where they could dial in and have a conversation.
The lockdown showed us the undeniably elevated position the mobile phones had in our lives and the manner in which they had taken over our lives. It also showed us how we felt challenged to hold a conversation, our inability to strike a conversation. How do you start a conversation with a family member? What do you talk about? A majority of us do not even know or remember the likes or dislikes of our close family members. The lockdown challenged us to face these questions or retreat behind the mobile phone screens. A sizeable number chose the latter. The lockdown taught us the challenge of holding a conversation and trying to hang on to it.
During my conversation with Tara, she revealed that from emotional isolation came the idea of the QuaranTeen Warmline, something extraordinary from the ordinary. Everyone, or at least a sizeable majority, is familiar with the term Helpline. But, the concept of a Warmline is not widely known. When she typed “Warmline India” into Google, the search threw up “Warmline Thermal Jackets’!
As the idea took shape Tara was ecstatic. She scrounged up all the money she could and put it in the setting up of the warmline. In the last week of April 2020, India’s first warmline was set up– a peer to peer support platform that would be a safe platform to share stories, stresses or loneliness free from judgement and criticism. It brought back the warmth of conversations even when isolated during the lockdown. The Warmline peer to peer supporters, team of five, include Veer Arya, Saniya Jaffer, Aanika Manghnani, Kian Khareghat and Nikita Singh.
Since the group was under lockdown, they operated out of their individual homes with a dedicated telephone line that connected six homes. Though the lockdown norms have been eased and lifted in India, Tara has decided to continue with it. The line is active from 4 pm to 10 pm every day. Each peer supporter is assigned one hour every day to answer calls received during that period.
The first two days after the Warmline was born the teens handled 80 calls and 60 direct messages. Until the last week of December 2020, the Warmline had handled 600 conversations from across the world.
In India mental health has always been a taboo subject, neglected and ignored. It is something that is spoken about in hushed whispers, something to hide. Experts point out that denial of the condition often renders the person without medical help, which further aggravates the ailment. Given this, the QuaranTeen Warmline is a small step towards a giant leap.
BUN-MASKA WILL NEVER TASTE THE SAME — MUMBAI GRIEVES 85-YEAR-OLD IRANI CAFE OWNER
24 May, 2020 The Print
Among the Parsi residents of Rustom Bagh in Mumbai, Darius Ferzandi, 85, was a household name. A senior partner at the popular Byculla Restaurant and Bakery, located just across the road, Ferzandi understood his customers. He knew exactly what his frequent patrons wanted, and how they wanted it.
So, when Ferzandi, a restaurateur since the early days of Independent India, passed away Thursday at the age of 85, it was a personal loss for Rustom Bagh, where generations have grown up relishing the delicious chicken “patice” (same as patties), Byculla syrup (a raspberry drink), and bun maska offered by the restaurant.
For Parvez Karkaria, an octogenarian resident of Rustom Bagh, Ferzandi’s death signals the end of an era.
“I started going to the restaurant in 1953 when I was 15 years old. My college was in south Mumbai, so a group of us travelled by train. The Byculla Restaurant and Bakery (also in south Mumbai) was our favourite place after college,” said Karkaria.
“Our pocket money would be about Rs 10 back then. We would sit around in the restaurant, drinking the pink-coloured Byculla syrup. If we could afford it, then we would have chicken patice too,” she added.
‘An elder brother’
Byculla Restaurant and Bakery is 105 years old. It was started by Ferzandi’s father, a Parsi who travelled from Iran and settled in what was then Bombay. Ferzandi joined the restaurant when he was 18 years old.
Like the whole of her generation, Karkaria came from a Parsi family that was orthodox in many ways. Every minute had to be accounted for. However, when she told her parents that the afternoon was spent with friends at the Byculla Restaurant and Bakery, their stern gaze softened and the angry words died on their lips, she said.
“Such was the respect they had for Darius. Our parents would not scold us for going there. He was like an elder brother to all of us,” she added.
In respecting Ferzandi, Karkaria’s family wasn’t alone. Around Rustom Bagh, families respected and loved him, and never thought twice when their children stepped out alone to visit the Byculla Restaurant and Bakery.
The bakery culture was brought to Mumbai by the Parsis. Until the late 1990s, the Irani cafes thrived on their cuisine, the Irani chai, the bun maska, etc. However, as the mall culture crept into Mumbai, the old-world charm of Bombay started fading, and the Irani cafes began to close down.
The Byculla Restaurant and Bakery, like its peers, struggled to keep up operations with their low-priced menu. Despite attrition, however, many of Ferzandi’s employees have been with him for over 45 years.
“Darius kept the prices low but delivered high-quality food. Despite the competition around him, the quality of food was never compromised,” said Vikram Balsara, a Colaba resident who visits the restaurant every weekend.
Others agree. Many patrons contacted by ThePrint for this report said they had never tasted better sliced bread, sali (a Parsi dish) or vegetable patice than the ones served by Ferzandi.
“He used to have a thriving business. Despite the escalating costs in the later years, the prices at the Byculla Restaurant and Bakery continued to remain low,” said a Rustom Bagh resident who preferred not to be named.
“Darius was not bothered about money. He had a golden heart. Whatever money we gave him he put it in the gallah.”
The Covid-19 lockdown means patrons of the restaurant have not been able to visit it for the milky, sweetened Irani chai they so love, a frequent jaunt that almost qualifies as a tradition in many local households.
They will surely return when the restaurant reopens, but Ferzandi’s absence at the gallah(counter) — his pride of place for the past 67 years — will be a bitter truth to swallow.
“For me and my husband, the sliced bread will never taste the same again,” said Karkaria.
It is yet unclear who will take over the reins of the restaurant in Ferzandi’s absence.
“I AM NARENDRA MODI’S WIFE”
IN A POOR VILLAGE, THE WOMAN WHO IS BELIEVED TO BE THE ESTRANGED WIFE OF THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN GUJARAT LIVES IN A ONE-ROOM HOME
30 May, 2009 - OPEN
The woman believed to be the wife of the most powerful man in Gujarat lives in a one-room home
She is clad in an ill-fitting blouse and a modest printed sari. Somewhat stooped, her face is wrinkled, her hands have obviously seen hard times and her hair is pulled back in a tight bun, making her look severe. Dirt grips the cracks of her slipper-clad feet. She could have been any woman in Rajosana village, Gujarat. But then, she is Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi. Everyone in this village knows her as Narendra Modi’s wife.
After the post-Godhra Gujarat riots, Modi’s political foes in Banaskantha district discovered her in this dusty village. Since then, Jashodaben has lived her life under intense scrutiny. Few among the 2,500 villagers, predominantly Muslim, disbelieve her story. Even Modi has neither confirmed nor denied her muted claim. At the time of going to press, a faxed request for a comment was not returned by Modi’s office.
People close to her say that she was married to Modi in his native village, Vadnagar, in Mehsana district, when she was 18. At the time of her marriage, she had studied only up to Class VII. That is believed to have put a strain on their marriage. (Also, according to a villager, Jashodaben does not like to be photographed as she believes she is not good looking.) A few days after the marriage, Jashodaben was sent back to her father Chimanlal’s house to complete her education. As those who know her say, in a bid to please her husband and measure up to his exacting standards, she started studying in Dholaka and completed her SSC (old pattern) in 1972. Then she completed a primary teachers course and worked in Ahmedabad for three months.
Subsequently, on 23 March 1978, Jashodaben joined a primary school in Dekwali village in Banaskantha district. She was later transferred to the District Panchayat School in Roopal village where she worked for 12 years. On 2 December 1991, she came to Rajosana village, where she currently lives. Villagers say that though she has been to Ahmedabad occasionally, she was never asked to stay on by her husband.
Jashodaben, a first standard teacher at the Rajosana Primary School, is very popular among her Muslim students. Muslim women in the village, none of whom were willing to be quoted, say that Modi’s estranged wife is shaping the personalities of Muslim children through her diligence as a teacher. They seem to like her. But the 57-year-old will be retiring in October.
“Narendrabhai Modi is a national leader. He is intelligent and good looking. Jashodaben may not be able to match him. But she is his wife; he has married her. He must take her back to live with him,” says a village elder.
When I met her at the school, Jashodaben was as excited as a child and could not stop smiling. She expressed a desire to talk and tell her tale. But the principal of the school, Pravinkumar P Vyas, admonished her for talking to a journalist. “You will only talk to them after school hours. Now go back to your class,” Vyas told her.
She pleaded, “Can I talk to her during the break? It will only take a few minutes.” But the principal was unrelenting.
She left the room meekly, only to come back soon. She said,“I will not say anything against my husband. He is very powerful. This job is all I have to survive. I am afraid of the consequences.” She then went back to her classroom.
Meanwhile, the principal had made a call from his mobile phone to inform somebody that Jashodaben had visitors. He then went to meet her in her classroom. After that, she became a different person. She smiled no more, her excitement was gone and she looked nervous. She kept wringing her hands. When I approached her again, she screamed, asking to be left alone. But as she walked away, she gestured to suggest that she would talk later.
Later, some men visited the school, one after the other, in different vehicles. They parked their vehicles within the school premises, and looked directly into the principal’s office. After a while, they left. When the school day came to an end, Jashodaben almost ran out to a waiting autorickshaw. She pointed at me and told some villagers that I was harassing her.
Hiding her face in her hands, she went to her brother’s house in her maternal village in Brahamanwada, about 20 km away. A few minutes later, a young man who identified himself as Prakashbhai, a reporter from Ram Setu (a two-page government-run newspaper printed with inconsistent frequency), approached me and asked me to leave the village. By then a sizeable crowd had gathered around us.
Though Jashodaben earns a monthly salary of Rs 10,000, she lives in a one-room tenement in the Panchalvas area in the village, and pays a rent of Rs 150 every month. The 100 sq ft room has a tin roof, no toilets, and not even a bathroom. The tap is located outside the house. According to the villagers, Jashodaben wakes up very early and takes a bath outside the house.
Despite the fact that she can afford a better life, she has chosen to stay in a somewhat impoverished village, in a sympathetic and helpful neighbourhood. Here, her story is known to all. Even the children of her school refer to her as ‘Narendrabhai Modi’s wife’.
But for all practical purposes, that means little. Jashodaben does not enjoy any privileges. She has to sweep and clean her house, fill water, use a public toilet, cook her meals and wash her own clothes. She does not have any domestic help.
The moment a car is spotted in the village, those living in the bylane leading to Jashodaben’s house gather outside their homes and maintain a close watch on her. Everyone I met claimed to be close to her. In fact, some even asked for money to ensure good access to her. Every Sunday, she takes the 20 km ride to Brahmanwada in an autorickshaw to spend the day with her brother’s family. Her brother runs a provision store.
People close to her say that she longs for that phone call from her husband, the call asking her to come and live with him forever. Jashodaben has consulted numerous astrologers for this reason. Interestingly, the verdict of all the astrologers is that one day she will definitely live with her husband.
The war between the BJP and Congress in Gujarat, particularly in Rajosana, works in Jashodaben’s favour. Her story will be retold over and over again.
For many years, the Congress had an upper hand in the Panchayat elections, but of late, the BJP is emerging stronger here. So, while Modi’s supporters maintain a close watch on Jashodaben’s activities to ensure that her disclosures do not embarrass the Chief Minister of Gujarat, his opponents are keen to reveal her to the nation. Meanwhile, Jashodaben is noticed to be turning increasingly religious.
‘WHERE’S MAHARASHTRA DHARMA?’ — RAJ THACKERAY SILENCE ON KANGANA ROW SPARKS DISCONTENT IN MNS
A NUMBER OF MNS LEADERS WHO SEE THEIR PARTY AS THE ‘CUSTODIAN OF MARATHI PRIDE’ ARE ANGRY AT KANGANA RANAUT’S JIBES AT MUMBAI, MAHARASHTRA AND THE MUMBAI POLICE.
15 September, 2020 The Print
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray has issued gag orders, preventing his party leaders from speaking on the Kangana Ranaut-Shiv Sena controversy, sparking discontent in the regional outfit.
The silence of Raj, a self-appointed custodian of Marathi pride, at a time when Ranaut’s tweets have hit hard at Mumbai, Maharashtra and the Mumbai Police, has shocked his party colleagues.
Disillusioned with the stand of their chief, some MNS activists have sent “feelers” to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) seeking to cross over.
In a series of tweets, Ranaut had compared Mumbai with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). She had also said that she feared the Mumbai Police more than the “movie mafia”, and chided the Mumbai Police commissioner Parambir Singh for liking a tweet that criticised her.
The only noticeable response from the MNS was party leader, Ameya Khopkar, cryptically alluding to her in a tweet on 4 September. Khopkar, the president of the MNS’ cinema wing, had tweeted in support of the Mumbai Police without naming Ranaut.
“Anyone who has a problem with the police can live in their respective states. You might call this a threat or a warning, but no true Mumbaikar is going to tolerate anything about the Mumbai Police,” he tweeted in Marathi.
MNS sources told ThePrint that Raj had reprimanded Khopkar for the tweet. But the chief’s stand is starting to hurt his party.
On 8 September, when the Kangana versus Maharashtra government feud had peaked, Omkar Hari Mali, the district co-ordinator of the MNS Cultural Cell handling Thane, Raigad and Palghar, joined the NCP. Others too are miffed.
“If Raj saheb cannot defend Marathi asmita (pride) when it is being abused by a migrant actor, there is no point in supporting him,” said a senior MNS leader.
“All these years we stood by Raj saheb because he stood for the Marathi people. Today, after a migrant abuses the Mumbai Police and says Mumbai is Pakistan, she still continues to live in Mumbai. Her Y security is an insult to Marathi asmita.”
‘Political compulsions behind silence’
Speaking to ThePrint, political analyst Parimal Maya Sudhakar of the MIT School of Governance feels that Raj Thackeray had lost the biggest opportunity to cash in on adverse statements by Ranaut.
“The Shiv Sena was on the defensive in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. The MNS could have taken on Kangana and created a political space. But since he (Raj) is looking for support of the BJP as an equal partner in Mumbai and a junior partner across Maharashtra, he is silent,” Sudhakar said.
“Raj Thackeray is looking for electoral gains via Hindutva as the Marathi pride and Marathi manoos issues have failed to deliver gains for him.”
Raj Thackeray’s silence is closely connected to the post-Assembly poll manoeuvres of November 2019, when NCP chief Sharad Pawar was stitching together the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition in Maharashtra.
The MNS chief was keen on lending support to this alliance; he had wanted to ally with the Congress and NCP even before Maharashtra Assembly polls on 21 October 2019.
Despite the Congress party’s thumbs down to his unofficial offer, Raj Thackeray had campaigned against the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra. He had criticised the “anti-Maharashtra” policies of the saffron alliance and asked the people to vote for him so that his party could emerge as a strong opposition.
He was very disappointed when the MVA did not consider his support as the Congress had objected to any alliance with the MNS. His anti-migrant stand, which had seen violent attacks on migrants from North India, was the basis of the objections of the Congress party.
The Hindutva turn
Facing political isolation, especially as his cousin Uddhav Thackeray — who is also the Shiv Sena chief — took over as the chief minister in November 2019, Raj veered toward the BJP and Hindutva.
On 23 January, 2020 – the birthday of his uncle and the founder of the Shiv Sena Bal Thackeray – the MNS chief unveiled a new party flag. The flag, saffron in colour, bore the image of the royal seal used during the times of the Maratha warrior king Chhatrpati Shivaji Maharaj. It signalled the change of ideology for the MNS.
The earlier flag, which was unveiled on 6 March 2006, the foundation day of the MNS, had the colours blue, orange, white and green. On the day he had founded the MNS, Raj Thackeray had told the public gathered at Shivaji Park that the colours of his flag signalled an inclusive politics with Dalits and Muslims being an integral part of the MNS’ politics.
Now while he publicly denies he has turned Right, there is little doubt that his politics has changed.
“I am not veering towards Hindutva. Maharashtra dharma is my only dharma,” Raj told a mammoth gathering at Azad Maidan on 21 August, 2020. He had also felicitated Mumbai Police personnel who were on duty at his protest meeting.
Party leaders are now pointing to that. “Raj saheb had called them on stage and handed them red roses telling that non one who attacks the Mumbai Police and the Maharashtra Police will be spared. What happened to that Maharashtra dharma?” said an MNS leader, speaking on anonymity to ThePrint.
Shiv Sena chief spokesman and the party MP, Sanjay Raut, through his weekly column, Rokhtok, in the party mouthpiece, Saamana, has urged Raj Thackeray to come forward and take a stand on the ongoing controversy.
“Pawar and Thackeray are the two powerful brands of Marathi pride. Even if you have issues with the Shiv Sena, the Thackeray brand should command and control,” wrote Raut in his column.
Speaking to ThePrint, MNS spokesman Sandeep Deshpande refused to comment on the issue. “I would not like to comment on the issue. Raj saheb will let us know the future course of action of the party,” Deshpande said.
SUSHANT SINGH RAJPUT’S DEATH OPENS NEW FRONT IN SHARAD PAWAR VS AJIT PAWAR FRICTION
THE SENIOR PAWAR SLAMMED HIS GRAND-NEPHEW, AJIT PAWAR’S SON PARTH, FOR DEMANDING A CBI PROBE INTO SUSHANT SINGH RAJPUT'S ALLEGED SUICIDE, AGAINST THE PARTY LINE.
14 August, 2020 , The Print
The demands for a CBI probe into the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput have shed light on the increasing friction between Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and his nephew and Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar.
The immediate trigger was a letter written by Parth Pawar, son of Ajit Pawar, to Maharashtra Home Minister and fellow NCP leader Anil Deshmukh, demanding a CBI probe into Rajput’s death. The Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress coalition whose ‘mentor’ is Sharad Pawar, is staunchly opposed to the case being taken over by the CBI.
Parth’s demand drew an uncharacteristically sharp retort from Sharad Pawar, who called him “immature” Tuesday morning, and told TV channels: “We do not care about Parth Pawar’s opinion. We stand firmly behind the Maharashtra government and the Mumbai Police.”
The mid-morning anger resulted in Ajit Pawar arriving at his uncle’s residence late Tuesday evening to “clear the air”. Sources said Sharad Pawar’s angry outburst was also a warning to Ajit Pawar to rein in his son, who has been tweeting opinions contrary to that of his grand-uncle.
Political analyst Pratap Asbe, who has been associated with Sharad Pawar for over three decades, felt the outburst was out of character. “He has always been composed even when speaking of adversaries. His outburst indicates that he is very angry. It is a message to Parth Pawar to fall in line with the party’s stand, and also to Ajit Pawar to rein in his son,” said Asbe.
Days before this, on 5 August, Parth had hailed the bhoomi pujan for the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya, which Sharad Pawar had opposed, saying it “would not kill the coronavirus”.
ThePrint reached Sharad and Ajit Pawar for comments about this report through calls and text messages, but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
Growing chasm between uncle and nephew
Sharad Pawar has been driving the MVA since its formation last winter, and his party holds the Home portfolio in the Maharashtra government. Chief Minister and Shiv Sena head Uddhav Thackeray is in constant touch with the NCP chief, whom he considers his mentor.
According to MVA sources, this has pushed Ajit Pawar to the sidelines and reduced the post of the Deputy CM to a “mere decoration”. Since the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed in March, Ajit has stayed away from Mumbai and Mantralaya, the seat of the government, and hasn’t had too many meetings with the CM.
The chasm between Sharad and Ajit Pawar has widened in recent months, and sources in his party call the latter a “ticking time bomb”.
“A public ticking off of his son will have wider ramifications. Like his uncle, he is a crafty politician and will bide his time,” said a source.
The relationship went sour when Ajit joined hands with BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis and was sworn in as Deputy CM before sunrise on 23 November last year, at a time when Sharad Pawar was stitching together a coalition with the Shiv Sena and the Congress Party.
The move had dealt a huge blow to Sharad Pawar’s credibility, and created a major trust deficit between the uncle and nephew.
However, NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal dismissed the speculation of a “power struggle” in the Pawar household, and told the media all was well between uncle and nephew.
Relationship was already cooling
Although Sharad Pawar has been a mentor and guide to Ajit, the relationship had begun cooling even before the events of last November, said sources close to both leaders. Now, Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, MP from Pawar’s old constituency of Baramati, is his political heir.
“Ajit dada feels that he is politically restricted. It is Pawar saheb who brought him into politics, but now his political course is being blocked. Saheb has always chosen someone else over dada, who is capable of being the chief minister,” an NCP legislator told ThePrint, adding that while Sharad Pawar “extended his support to dada, he was also restrained in his support”.
The hot-and-cold nature of the relationship can be traced back to the 1990s, when Ajit Pawar had just begun ascending the political ladder. Although he was keen to dominate Pune’s political arena, but Sharad Pawar, then with the Congress, supported Suresh Kalmadi, who emerged as a strongman.
When Sharad Pawar broke away from the Congress and established the NCP in 1999, Ajit was among a group of strong, emerging leaders. “Chhagan Bhujbal, Jayant Patil, R.R. Patil, Sunil Tatkare and Vijaysinh Mohite Patil were groomed as strong second-rung leaders who grew as counter-weights to Ajit dada,” said the legislator quoted above.
The same year, when the Congress and NCP formed a coalition government in Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar conceded the CM’s post to the Congress, even though Ajit Pawar was interested in it. Vilasrao Deshmukh took charge, and to add insult to Ajit’s injury, NCP’s Bhujbal was named the deputy CM. Even after Bhujbal resigned from the post twice due to political controversies, Ajit was never considered.
Then in 2010, when Ashok Chavan stepped down as CM over allegations in the Adarsh Society scam case, Ajit again wanted the chair and the NCP had got more seats than the Congress, so his dream could have been achieved, said a second senior NCP leader.
Instead, “sensing a power struggle Sharad Pawar conceded the post” to the Congress again, making Prithviraj Chavan the CM and Ajit his deputy. This leader said it was “not fair” that the senior Pawar kept pushing Ajit to the deputy’s post when “he is capable” of being CM.
Clipping of wings led to dissent
NCP insiders said this repeated clipping of wings sowed the seeds of dissent and disgruntlement in Ajit Pawar. Considered to be tempestuous, finicky and impulsive by nature, he has often put his uncle in embarrassing spots — such as on 8 April 2013, when he ridiculed a farmer sitting on a hunger strike demanding better management of the available water resources in a drought-hit district.
“From where will we give him water? Should we urinate in the dams?” Ajit Pawar had said, leading to a huge uproar across Maharashtra, for which Sharad Pawar was forced to apologise.
The uncle and nephew’s differences came out into the open in the lead-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when Ajit was keen on a ticket for his son Parth from Maval seat in Pune district. Sharad Pawar didn’t want the greenhorn Parth in the fray. But Ajit insisted on his son contesting the elections, so Sharad Pawar decided to abandon his original plan of contesting from Madha constituency.
Parth lost Maval by over two lakh votes, which challenged the notion of the Pawars’ electoral invincibility.
“Saheb was upset with Parth’s loss while dada felt the NCP workers had not worked hard for his son’s victory. Then he went and joined Devendra Fadnavis. There seems to be a lot of anger between the two of them,” said a third NCP leader.
Then, another of Sharad Pawar’s grand-nephews, Rohit Rajendra Pawar, was elected from the Karjat-Jamkhed assembly constituency in the Maharashtra polls later in 2019. “Dada feels Rohit is being promoted by saheb while Parth is being sidelined,” said another party source.
However, the source added: “This chapter has not ended here. Dada will react. He will wait, but some reaction is certain.”
‘IF YOU DON’T LIKE MY FACE, DON’T LOOK’
STORIES OF THREE WOMEN WHO SURVIVED ACID ATTACKS AND BURNS TO MAKE A MARK FOR THEMSELVES
07 Jan, 2012 - OPEN
Stories of three women who survived acid attacks and burns to make a mark for themselves
Nitric, hydrochloric acid sulphuric acid are the most common weapons in the hands of the vicious who want to disfigure their victims for life. The damage inflicted by the slightest splash of the chemical is permanent— in physical, emotional and social terms. Women, almost always at the receiving end, often find their entire existence mauled beyond rescue. The way they dress changes, they turn socially awkward, give up their education, forget the prospect of finding a spouse (if unmarried, which is often the case), and watch their chances of achieving or retaining a career die a premature death. In a world that one must literally ‘face’, survival itself becomes a daily challenge.
Reliable statistics on acid attacks in India are not available since a large number of cases go unreported, particularly in rural areas. For one of the cruelest acts of violence imaginable, this lack of data is a grim reminder of how casually the country treats the phenomenon. But if there is hope, it lies in the stories of survivors who have pulled themselves together, put the attack behind them, and gone on to make the most of their lives. It’s not easy. New perspectives have to be shaped, new goals set. But it can be done, as these three stories show.
In May 1998, Shirin Juwaley was climbing the stairs to her home in Mazgaon, Central Mumbai, when she heard footsteps coming down. She looked up and life changed forever. A man dressed in black from head to toe threw something at her. She felt a warm liquid slap her face and a burning that tore through her. Within minutes, flesh had burnt away from her face. Police investigations later found that it was her estranged husband who had attacked her.
Coming from a middle-class Muslim family, Shirin had married on the rebound after a failed relationship. She was not keen on marriage, but did it for her parents’ sake. But it wasn’t working out. She wanted to move out but her parents felt otherwise. One day, her husband called in family members from both sides and sought their help to counsel Shirin to “sleep with him”. That day, her parents took her back home. The acid attack followed soon after. He left for the Middle East that same night, and lives free there even today.
Sixteen painful reconstructive surgeries later, Shirin decided it was time to stop trying to get back a face she never would. Her face had some shape now but the scars would remain forever. “Every time I looked into the mirror, I winced. Not anymore. Today, the image it reflects is a more confident me,” says Shirin Juwaley. She is 37 years old now and has come to terms with the tragedy.
“Plastic surgery is a myth. In the movies, a beautiful face emerges from a scarred face after the operation. In real life, every surgery leaves more scars. Your complexion changes,” says Shirin. Though she needs more surgeries, she has decided to stop. She is now comfortable with the way she looks, but it was tough reaching this stage. “Before the attack, I was beautiful. I had a future, a dream. Now I live from day to day. I have no qualms about my face. I like my face. I don’t want to look beautiful anymore.”
In the early aftermath of the attack, she was afraid of people (even looking at them), of cooking, of many things she took for granted. Depressed, she put on weight. A year of self-imposed isolation later, she decided to set up an NGO to help women in similar situations. Palash, the NGO, helps rebuild the lives of victims of disfigurement. They do this in partnership with the social welfare department of the government-run Sion Hospital “It is easier to talk to patients who are healing. We meet their caretakers too. We also help the patient deal with relationship management,” says Juwaley.
It was in 2001 that she actually emerged from her shell. She was invited for the World Burn Conference in the US. She went there in a burkha, but came back without it, vowing to never hide her face again. She lived there for 18 months, and interactions with various people strengthened her resolve to start adopting a new identity.
Shirin has a busy schedule today. She is invited to conferences and symposia, both in India and abroad. She is also the brand ambassador for an elite hair salon, Mad-O-Wat, the walls of which her face will soon adorn.
Palash has undertaken two research projects: studying the social, financial and psychological impact of burn injuries; and exploring prevalent ideas of beauty, specifically whether it socially excludes people with disfigurement or altered body images.
Despite Shirin’s achievements, there are always moments when she is reminded of her scars. Some months ago, a woman principal of a South Mumbai college refused her permission to interact with students. Her face was the problem. “I was told that she did not want students of the college to go off marriage. The principal was categorical—she would let unscarred volunteers participate, but not me. It was an eye-opener.”
She knows that people still cringe when they look at her, refuse to sit next to her on buses or trains, and young girls sometimes point at her and giggle. But she has moved on.
Mahalakshmi completed her MBBS in 1994-95 and worked for some time at St John’s and St Martha’s hospitals in Bangalore. In 1998-99, she opened her own clinic on rented premises in Mysore. When her landlord began to harass her, she left the place and asked him to return her deposit. He refused, and she approached the police. He continued to harass her and she filed another complaint with the cops. Then, one night, as she was headed home, he lay in wait for her with acid. He flung it and hurried away. In excruciating pain, her face asmoulder, Mahalakshmi stopped a couple on a scooter and pleaded to be taken to hospital. They refused. Finally, it was a patient, a child, who helped her into an autorickshaw and rushed her to Emergency.
It took the police two days to register a complaint because they were unsure about the jurisdiction of the crime. It then took about nine months for the chargesheet to be framed. She lost the case in the lower courts. The state government was interested in going for an appeal, but the director of Public Prose- cution didn’t want to. So Mahalakshmi approached Karnataka’s home secretary, and he certified that the case was fit for appeal. It was then admitted at the High Court. It is still pending there.
Mahalakshmi is now a campaigner against the government’s laxity in framing stronger laws against acid attacks. Educating victims, she feels, is crucial to bringing culprits to book.
Sneha Jawale’s torture began immediately after she moved into her husband’s home. He, along with his brother, started harassing her to get her parents to stump up a larger dowry. In 1997, they went to the extreme of burning her with acid. Recoiling from the effect of what he had done, her husband took her to hospital. He then called her family and begged them not to file a complaint. They complied, and her treatment began.
She returned home, but only to suffer a form of psychological torture. Her husband isolated her. She was not allowed to meet or interact with her three-and- a-half-year old son. No one in the family spoke to her. She was not allowed into the kitchen or bedroom. She couldn’t sit in the living room. “When the doorbell rang and if I was somewhere, they would ask me to go into another room and close the door,” recounts Sneha, “I longed to see, talk to and touch my son. He would come to me on the sly, and rub Vicks on my scars. He would get me fruits from the fridge. He was my pillar of strength.”
One day, they locked the house and took Sneha’s child away. She tried to get police help, but it proved pointless. Her parents stopped supporting her, and 50 days later, her husband filed for divorce in a court in Osmanabad. It was granted. “I have not seen my child since,” she says.
In response, Sneha did an unusual thing. Instead of succumbing to destiny, she began to study it. She visited astrologer after astrologer to ask them about her future. “I went to at least 150 of them,” she says. She even persuaded one guru to teach her astrology.
Today, Sneha is an astrologer herself, and fairly well known, locally. “An astrologer’s looks don’t matter,” she says, “Alongside, I also studied Tarot card reading, numerology, reiki, hypnotism, vaastu, feng shui and reading the remains in tea and coffee cups.” She is also a successful dialogue writer for Marathi films and TV serials. “Marathi film and television stars visit my house for private consultations,” she says, “This has made me popular with my neighbours. But my scarred face is still a talking point.”
After 20 painful surgeries, she has been advised more sessions under the scalpel, but is just not interested anymore. “Will I look beautiful? When I know it is not possible, why do it at all and waste money that I have to borrow? I am happy with my face. This is my face and if someone has a problem looking at it, don’t look.”
COALITION POLITICS OR HINDUTVA? SHIV SENA’S RAM MANDIR DILEMMA HAS LEFT PARTY CONFUSED, ANGRY
NO ONE FROM SHIV SENA IS INVITED FOR RAM MANDIR BHOOMI PUJAN, THOUGH PEOPLE LINKED WITH THE STRUGGLE FOR THE TEMPLE WILL ALL BE THERE. PARTY SAYS WHAT'S HAPPENING IN AYODHYA IS SHOWMANSHIP.
5 August, 2020 The Print
In December 2019, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, then less than a month old in office, expressed regret that his party, the Shiv Sena, had mixed politics with religion and partnered the BJP for 25 years.
This admission from Thackeray, a Hindutva proponent whose father Bal Thackeray was known as “Hindu Hridaysamrat”, has come back to haunt the Shiv Sena as the BJP readies for the Ram temple bhoomi pujan at Ayodhya Wednesday.
Even though the guest list (restricted on account of the Covid crisis) for the event includes representatives of outfits associated with the struggle for the temple, no one from the Shiv Sena — which makes no bones about its role in the Babri Masjid demolition — has been invited.
Within the party, there are grumbles about what is perceived as the Shiv Sena leadership’s silence about the event. While the Shiv Sena has been publicly reiterating its role in the Ram temple campaign, party leaders complain there has been no word from the brass on how they should approach the bhoomi pujan.
There are fears that, with this event, the BJP may steal the march on the Shiv Sena with respect to the Hindutva mandate, and the latter’s voters may get the wrong message.
To opponents and political analysts, this chaos within the party is seen as the result of its alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, which they claim has forced the Shiv Sena to abandon its hard Hindutva stance.
‘The wrong message’
Thackeray was the first Shiv Sena leader to have visited Ayodhya after the 9 November 2019 Supreme Court verdict giving the go-ahead for the construction of the Ram temple. At his swearing-in ceremony the same month, he was dressed in saffron, the colour associated with the Hindutva movement.
In March, as his government completed 100 days in office, Thackeray visited Ayodhya and announced a donation of Rs 1 crore towards temple construction on behalf of the Shiv Sena.
His father, the late Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, was among the accused in the case pertaining to the Babri Masjid demolition, which was carried out by Hindu fundamentalists in 1992 to pave the way for a temple at the site, believed to be the birthplace of Hindu deity Ram.
However, since it forged the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition with the NCP and the Congress, the Shiv Sena has been stalked by allegations that its Hindutva stance is waning.
During his March visit to Ayodhya, Uddhav carried with him soil from the Raigad Fort (the capital of the Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj), an act that is believed to have left his allies displeased. In the last week of July, in an interview to Saamana, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, Thackeray said the bhoomi pujan should be conducted via video-conferencing on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There were reports last month that Uddhav will be invited to the event, but he hasn’t been. The Shiv Sena has played down the fact, dismissing the grand bhoomi pujan scheduled for Wednesday as a showcase of political might.
“If the chief minister is not invited, there is no question of him going for it,” Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant told ThePrint. “We do not want to make an event of everything. In this corona pandemic, what is happening in Ayodhya is showmanship. It is not bhakti, but shakti which is happening there,” he said. “Ram Mandir is not a political issue for us as others are doing.”
Many senior leaders of the Shiv Sena, however, are not happy with the “confused” state of the party’s ideological movement. “It is completely directionless. Balasaheb was known as the Hindu Hridaysamrat, a strong voice of Hindutva,” said a senior Shiv Sena leader. “Today, the party he founded is not even invited to the Ram Janmabhoomi, a party whose kar sevaksbrought down the Babri Masjid.”
Sawant noted that many Shiv Sainiks have gone to Ayodhya, taking with them the soil from the site of the Balasaheb Thackeray memorial. “Uddhav Thackeray will definitely go to Ayodhya when this pandemic is over,” he said.
‘Moving away from Hindutva’
Opponents and analysts say the Shiv Sainiks are not wrong to fear the party is moving away from Hindutva.
“That is exactly what the Shiv Sena is doing,” said Sandeep Deshpande, a senior leader of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). “Now, their voters are different as they have formed a government with the NCP and Congress. Maybe this is the reason for the silence,” he added.
Political analyst Abhay Mandwekar offered a similar argument. “Before the Lok Sabha elections, the slogan of the Shiv Sena was ‘Pehle mandir, baad mein sarkar (first temple, then government)’. Now that they are in the ‘sarkar’ with parties who cringe at Hindutva, it is not easy for the Shiv Sena to keep their promise,” he added.
“Had Uddhav been invited for the event, he would have been in a fix over whether to go or not. His previous visits were different, now, as the head of a coalition government, he is also answerable to the Congress and the NCP,” said Mandwekar.
The Shiv Sena’s lack of ideological conviction regarding Hindutva is the reason for their present predicament, added journalist Dhaval Kulkarni, who authored the book Cousins Thackeray: Uddhav, Raj And The Shadow Of Their Senas.
“On the one hand, Uddhav has to keep his government intact. On the other hand, he cannot afford to shed Hindutva. The Shiv Sena’s commitment to Hindutva is yet to run its full course,” he added. “He cannot be seen as diluting Hindutva. In the days ahead, Uddhav will have to manage this contradiction.”
SHIV SENA SCION AADITYA THACKERAY TAKES LEAD ROLE IN GOVT MATTERS & NOT ALL ARE PLEASED
FROM COVID DECISIONS TO MATTERS REGARDING EDUCATION OR SPORTS, SHIV SENA DYNAST AADITYA THACKERAY HAS EMERGED AS HIS CM FATHER’S CHIEF ADVISER FOR EVERYTHING.
20 July, 2020 The Print
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aaditya Thackeray, all of 30, has emerged as his father’s shadow in the state. He is the state cabinet minister for environment, climate change, tourism and protocol, but he has become a fixture at government meetings that have nothing to do with his mandate.
Be it taking stock on Covid-19, or Cyclone Nisarga, which made landfall on Maharashtra’s Konkan coast last month, or matters regarding education or sports — the third-generation Shiv Sena dynast has been everywhere. He has the state’s top civil servants on speed dial, and regularly “reviews” the Covid situation in districts overseen by his senior cabinet colleagues, sources said.
Long story short, the sources added, he is the most powerful cabinet minister in the state.
While supporters defend his presence at meetings that are beyond his prescribed role, saying he is a young politician learning the ropes, everyone in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) — a coalition of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress — doesn’t share the enthusiasm.
Speaking to ThePrint, sources in the NCP and the Congress expressed reservations about his role in the government, suggesting it amounted to interference. Even within the Shiv Sena, a party set up by Aaditya’s grandfather Bal Thackeray, his growing role is seen as the recipe for an imminent power struggle in the party.
In news since student days
Aaditya Thackeray was born on 13 June 1990 in Mumbai. He is the youngest member of the Maharashtra cabinet, having entered his 30s just last month.
While his role in the government is new, he is a veteran of the headlines who first courted them during his days as a student of history at Mumbai University. In 2010, he started a campaign against the Rohinton Mistry novel Such a Long Journey, which allegedly contained unfavourable references to his grandfather. His book-burning protests culminated in the university dropping the book from its syllabus.
In the years since, he has cultivated a different image with his campaign for a 24*7 nightlife in Mumbai,and Goa-like beach shacks along the state’s stunning Konkan coast. His crusade against a proposed Metro shed at Aarey Colony in Mumbai, a project that had been criticised as inimical to the environment, has earned him many fans too.
On Twitter, he has 2.3 million followers, far ahead of the 7.4 lakh that follow his chief minister father’s account.
Aaditya, sources said, wields a strong influence over his father and is the driving force behind many of the chief minister’s decisions.
Although he is the most junior member in the cabinet, he attends all meetings called by the chief minister, irrespective of the department concerned. As the state’s Minister for Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Protocol, he is networked across the political divide — a fact that is seen as an advantage for his father, the sources said.
The chief minister has come to rely more on the feedback he receives from his son about the meetings than from the bureaucracy, said a source in the government.
In the months since April, as Covid cases spiralled in Maharashtra, Aaditya has been more active in his interactions with officials across the state than the chief minister, sources added.
Civil servants like Ajoy Mehta, the former chief secretary turned adviser to the chief minister, Iqbal Singh Chahal, the incumbent commissioner of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), and Maharashtra Chief Secretary Sanjay Kumar, are all in constant touch with him.
“Since the beginning of the lockdown, he has been in regular touch with bureaucrats in the state. He is the chief minister’s son, so it is presumed that when he calls, it is on behalf of the chief minister,” said a senior civil servant.
SHIV SENA MOUTHPIECE SLAMS CONGRESS, AIRS MAHARASHTRA RULING ALLIANCE’S DIRTY LAUNDRY
AN EDITORIAL IN SAAMANA HAS SAID THE DISGRUNTLEMENT VOICED BY CONGRESS MINISTERS OF NOT BEING PART OF THE GOVERNMENT’S DECISION-MAKING PROCESS IS ‘UNWARRANTED’.
16 June, 2020 The Print
The Congress in Maharashtra came under attack from the Shiv Sena, its partner in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, through its mouthpiece Saamana Tuesday.
An editorial in Saamana minced no words in taking on the Congress, which has been openly airing its disgruntlement against the Uddhav Thackeray-led government. It used the metaphor of an “old cot” to describe its ally, and said “old cots creak too much and make a lot of noise”.
The editorial further said that while Thackeray was not power hungry and had not become the chief minister to gain power, the Congress was a “wily party which knows when to grumble and when to change sides”.
The Saamana editorial has made it public that the constituents of the MVA are at odds. The Shiv Sena had so far maintained silence on Congress ministers’ growing disgruntlement against the CM’s decisions, but showed that it felt the criticism was “unwarranted”.
However, Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat of the Congress reacted to the editorial by saying: “The chief minister is the head of the alliance and the government. When he hears us out, he too will be satisfied. Saamana should write another editorial; today’s piece is based on incomplete information which sends out a wrong message about us. We are with the MVA.”
Shiv Sena MP and Saamana Associate Editor Sanjay Raut also downplayed the editorial, saying it was the paper’s writing style.
“The coordination in the government is present, all the issues will be resolved after they meet the chief minister, such issues happen at times. Some Congress ministers, especially Ashok Chavan, have said that the officers do not listen to them, they will talk to the chief minister,” Raut was quoted as saying by ANI.
Thackeray-Pawar bonding and feeling of exclusion
The growing friendship between CM Uddhav Thackeray and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar has become worrisome for the Congress. The party’s ministers allege that they are neither taken into confidence nor consulted on important decisions; that these are discussed between Pawar and Thackeray and then simply announced.
Pawar has been proactive since the nation-wide Covid-19 lockdown began, and has held numerous meetings with Thackeray on the pandemic situation in the state, the havoc wreaked by the Nisarga cyclone, the agriculture crisis, the migrant crisis, exiting the lockdown, the non-availability of labour, and the impact of Covid on Maharashtra’s economy.
At these discussions, civil servants have been present, but the ministers heading the relevant departments are often absent, said government sources.
Former CM Ashok Chavan, now the public works minister, and Balasaheb Thorat, the revenue minister, have sought a meeting with Thackeray to discuss the issue of the party not being included in the decision-making process, but the CM is yet to fix a date.
Chavan and Thorat have been vocal about not being taken into confidence, with the former saying: “We are a three-party government. Each party should be accorded equal importance.”
Other Congress ministers like Nitin Raut, Vijay Wadettiwar and Sunil Kedar have also spoken about this, and even assembly Speaker Nana Patole had met the party’s former president Rahul Gandhi and updated him about the issues within the MVA.
“This is the ‘Thackeray sarkar’. The Congress is merely there to keep the numbers intact,” said a senior Congress leader.
Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant added that the party is central to the survival of the state government. “When the Congress is important to hold this government together, it should be accorded equal importance in decision-making. Every minister of the party brings with him or her experience in governance,” Sawant told the ThePrint.
However, Shiv Sena’s Raut denied that the Congress ministers were angry. “Nobody is angry, all ministers stay present during cabinet meetings,” he said.
Chief secretary’s extension
Another reason for the Congress’ disgruntlement is the fact that Thackeray is granting a third service extension to Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta, who has been on extension since 31 March. Sources said Congress ministers were kept in the dark when this decision was taken, and that the party is opposed to another extension being given to Mehta, who is said to enjoy the confidence and trust of Thackeray.
The Congress is of the opinion that such service extensions cause a problem in the promotions of other senior civil servants who are in queue, such as Praveen Pardeshi, Sanjay Kumar and Sitaram Kunte.
Sources said Thackeray is in no mood to relent on this matter.
“Ajoy Mehta discusses issues of every department with the chief minister. Often presentations are made at cabinet meetings by the secretaries of the departments without the knowledge of the ministers,” a senior Congress minister told ThePrint.
“Since the chief secretary controls the bureaucrats, it is seen as an infringement of the minister’s rights. If the bureaucrats want to run the show, why does this government need ministers?”
Not working out for Congress
Political analyst Vishwambhar Chowdhari said it is becoming inconvenient for the Congress to remain in the government.
“The cost-benefit analysis is not working out for the Congress. When ideologies and working styles don’t match, this is bound to happen,” said Chowdhari.
There is also a feeling in the Congress that it is Pawar who is running the MVA government, an equation that has pushed his nephew and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar to the sidelines.
Although the three parties have stitched together a common minimum programme and set up two coordination committees, all this is only on paper, said sources.
In April, the early days of the pandemic in which Maharashtra has emerged as the worst-hit state, another former Congress CM Prithviraj Chavan brought the rumblings within the MVA into the public domain. “We are a part of this government but this is not our government,” he had told a TV news channel.
Then, in late May, Rahul Gandhi too had endorsed Prithviraj Chavan’s views, saying: “We are supporting the Maharashtra government but we are not in the decision-making role.”
Sources said the next day, Gandhi had called up Thackeray and had a lengthy conversation.
Then, in June, Maharashtra Energy Minister Nitin Raut had reiterated Gandhi’s words in a TV interview, after which Ashok Chavan and Thorat spoke about the issue.
“We will talk to the chief minister about the differences within the MVA. There are other issues too that need to be cleared,” Thorat had told news channels.
WHY INDUSTRIES IN MAHARASHTRA ARE RELUCTANT TO EMPLOY MARATHI WORKERS DESPITE SHORTAGE
NEARLY 12 LAKH OF MAHARASHTRA'S 38 LAKH MIGRANT WORKERS HAVE LEFT THE STATE OVER THE PAST WEEKS DURING THE LOCKDOWN, AFFECTING MORE THAN 40 SECTORS.
11 June, 2020 The Print
As Maharashtra moves into the first phase of its Mission Begin Again, an attempt to revive the economy as the Covid-19 lockdown is lifted, the state’s industrialists are faced with a labour conundrum.
There is a massive shortage of labour in the state due to the large-scale exodus of migrant workers from Maharashtra. And while there is a sizeable Marathi workforce to replace them, industry sources say that many Marathi industrialists themselves are reluctant to employ local labour.
The hesitance in employing Marathi workers is driven by perceptions in the state’s industrial sector that they lack work discipline, are unwilling to learn new trades, are inclined towards political and trade unions — seen as pressure tactics by businesses — and are insistent on the implementation of the reservation quota.
This is an unusual situation in Maharashtra, says Sudhir Mutalik, a Nashik-based industrialist. He is the founder and managing director of Positive Metering Pumps (I) Private Limited, which caters to the process industry and counts refineries and nuclear power plants among its clients.
“The Marathis were never pushed to a wall. But today, the Covid-19 circumstances have done it,” Mutalik told ThePrint. “A majority of the Marathis are reluctant to work hard and this will definitely impact the small and medium scale industries who need labour urgently. The problem is that the Marathi worker has a mental barrier about hard work. They have to change their attitudes.”
Mutalik and many others ThePrint spoke to are also uncomfortable with the political connections the local labour force brings with it.
“The problem with the Marathi workforce is that somewhere or the other they are connected to politics and this interference is stifling,” Mutalik said.
“Another problem is the tantrums of the Marathi workforce. Unlike the migrant workers, who take a month off in the summers to go to their native places, the Marathi workers are bound by familial compulsions of ceremonies and family gatherings. If they are not given leave constantly, some local politicians will make calls to us. Accommodating these tantrums becomes very difficult.”
According to Mutalik, the labour void will ensure a slowdown in scores of manufacturing units dotted across the various industrial zones in Maharashtra.
But trade union leader Bhai Jagtap isn’t buying the arguments, though he said he understood the reluctance.
“If a worker wants to be a part of a union, it is his right,” said Jagtap, president of the Bharatiya Kamgar Karmachari Mahasangh.
“The Marathi workforce has to be employed by the industries. This is non-negotiable. They cannot refuse jobs saying that the Marathis are not hard working.”
Marathi writer Sanjay Sonawane agrees with some of the industrialists’ assessment but blames politicians for aggravating the problem.
“Historical reasons are responsible for the killer instinct and competitiveness missing from a majority of the Marathi people,” Sonawane said. “To add to it, the feudal mentality of the Marathi politicians have ensured that they find it difficult to shake off the sense of subservience.”
The labour conundrum
According to the Economic Survey of Maharashtra 2019-20, the number of migrants in Maharashtra from other states stands at 38.13 lakh. The state government data puts the migrants who have left the state during the Covid-19 national lockdown at 12 lakh, with many thousands still queuing up to leave.
The migrants workforce was predominantly employed in refineries, foundries, sugar mills, cotton mills, iron and steel mills, among others. They are engaged in over 48 kinds of jobs, according to the economic survey data.
The migrants have had a historic presence in Maharashtra, particularly Mumbai, as the first of them were brought here by the British in the 19th century. Back then they were brought to work as dhobis (washermen) and were centred largely to south Mumbai.
They later spread to the northern and eastern suburbs of Mumbai. According to a research paper by Professor Aruna Pendse of the Mumbai University, generations of those early UP migrants still live in the Walkeshwar and Malabar Hill areas in South Mumbai.
The migrants from Bihar began streaming into Mumbai from the 1980s, while the major wave began in the 1990s. While the UP migrants belong largely to Azamgarh and Mau, the Biharis belong to Darbhanga and Purnia.
Migrants, however, are a touchy issue in Maharashtra with the native parties such as the Shiv Sena, which is in power, and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), making them the fulcrum of their politics for decades.
But no party has escaped the cloud that has hung over migrant workers.
In November 2008, the then Congress-NCP government brought in a resolution, which stated that priority should be accorded to ensure that a minimum of 80 per cent of the workforce in all micro, small, medium, large and mega industrial enterprises should comprise of local residents.
In March this year, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government announced that it plans to bring in a legislation that would make it mandatory for the private sector in the state to reserve 80 per cent of the jobs to the domiciles living in the state for more than 15 years.
Industrialists say that even when the 2008 government resolution wasn’t implemented in full, they found it difficult to employ Marathi-speaking labour.
“They would rather open a paan shop outside the factory gates than work and earn a consistent salary inside it,” said one Marathi industrialist who did not want to be named.
One major concern is the effect that local labour will have on the wage bill.
Sources say that the advantage of employing migrant labourers is that they are not affiliated to the workers’ unions or local politicians. The migrant labourers are recruited by agents who, in turn, supply this workforce to the small and medium scale industries and the construction firms often at lower than minimum wages. These agents get hefty commissions from the small and medium scale industries and the construction firms for providing them cheap labour.
Depending on the nature of the work, the minimum wages range from Rs 50 to 300. Local labour, however, does not come cheap, thereby higher wages will have to be paid.
“The local politician and the unions will step in now to decide on a wage rate for the local workers. This may not be in parity with what we can pay them post the lockdown. It is a no-win situation for us,” said an industrialist who has a manufacturing unit in the Aurangabad MIDC (Maharashtra Industries Development Corporation).
According to another industrialist based in Amravati, the Marathi workforce can do much more but they simply do not want to.
“They are in a comfort zone, so lack the will power and killer instinct to grow or develop skills. The fact that the son has to be employed when the father retires is not working for many of us as many of them are not skilled,” said the industrialist.
Those industries that have foundries will be worst hit as the migrant labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar enjoyed a monopoly here.
“The migrant labourers can work in very high temperatures without complaint. Somehow the local labour does not want to work in the foundries,” said Mutalik, the Nashik industrialist.
Echoing Mutalik’s sentiments, another industrialist said that employing local labour will have a cascading effect on the price of goods.
“Now hundred per cent of the labour force, whether they are skilled or unskilled, will be from the local population. We have no choice. The immediate fallout of this will be a steep increase in the cost of labour,” said the industrialist who has a medium scale manufacturing unit at the Pimpri-Chinchwad industrial belt in Pune district. “This is bound to increase the price of the goods we manufacture.”
The fear of strikes
The Marathi affiliation to workers unions has made small and medium industrialists fearful of work disruption.
Prolonged workers strikes are not new to Maharashtra. Even after 38 years, the 1982 textile mill workers strike called by union leader Dr Datta Samant in Mumbai is a case pointed out by many.
The year-long strike, for better wages and a bonus, crippled the textile mills and pushed the workers towards poverty. Many families are still recovering from the after-effects of that strike.
The strike and violence at the switchgear division of Crompton Greaves located in the Nashik MIDC in May 2016 is another example of disruption. The incident earned Nashik the moniker, ‘Manesar of the South’.
This workers strike for better wages turned into a flashpoint between two unions — the Congress-backed All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and the CPM-backed Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). It eventually took a violent turn.
Violent strikes at the Pimpri-Chinchwad MIDC too are quoted as examples by industrialists to support their reluctance to employ the Marathi workers.
But not everyone is batting for the migrant labour force.
For M.N. Lakhote, who recently retired as the plant head of Ashok Leyland, employment of the workforce depends on the nature of the industry.
“The local population is preferred in the engineering and machinery industries. The idea of setting up industrial zones in the rural areas is to give employment to the local population. We have to develop their skills and make them employable,” Lakhote said.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, in one of his Facebook Live addresses, has now requested Marathi workers to take up jobs vacated by the migrants. His views were echoed by Maharashtra Minister for Industry Subhash Desai.
“This is the best opportunity for the Marathi manoos as there are thousands of jobs available,” Desai said at a press conference last month.
“The Maharashtra government will set up an online employment registration board for the local workforce. The employers and the workforce will share this platform. This will help employers find suitable and skilled workers. The workers can register at this online centre and find jobs suited to their skills.”
The MNS is also pushing the Marathi workforce to grab the jobs.
MNS leader Sandeep Deshpande told ThePrint that recent job losses across various sectors had made the Marathi manoos more accepting of the available jobs.
“Over the past week, the MNS has been surveying the joblessness amongst the Marathi people and we found that they are willing to do any kind of work,” Deshpande said. “They are not inclined towards hard work because of the literacy factor. Why will an educated Marathi worker do a job which was being done by an illiterate person?”
Deshpande added that there is a change in Marathi mindset but warned that even if there isn’t, industrialists will have to employ the local workforce. “No industrialists can refuse to employ the Marathi manoos. The locals have to be given jobs, if they do not do so then we will have to intervene,” he said.
HOW AJIT PAWAR GARLANDING SAVARKAR PORTRAIT HAS GOT MAHARASHTRA POLITICAL CIRCLES ABUZZ
WHILE MAHARASHTRA DEPUTY CM AJIT PAWAR GARLANDED V.D. SAVARKAR’S PORTRAIT AT MANTRALAYA THURSDAY, ALLY CONGRESS IS PROTESTING IN KARNATAKA OVER 'SAVARKAR FLYOVER'.
29 May, 2020 The Print
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar created a flutter in political circles Thursday by garlanding the portrait of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar at Mantralaya on the 137th birth anniversary of the Hindutva ideologue.
Pawar is the first leader from the NCP — an ally in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra — to officially garland the Savarkar portrait.
The Shiv Sena and the Congress are the other constituents of the alliance, with the former’s chief Uddhav Thackeray leading the government.
The function in Maharashtra would have gone unnoticed but for echoes of a Congress protest in Bengaluru being heard in Maharashtra. The Congress, which is a staunch opponent of Savarkar’s ideology, has vociferously protested the renaming of the Yelahanka flyover in the Karnataka capital as Veer Savarkar flyover in the last few days.
Objecting to the B.S. Yediyurappa-led BJP government’s move to rename the flyover, Congress leader and former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah termed it as an insult to the freedom fightersfrom the state.
In Maharashtra, the Congress didn’t immediately react to Pawar’s official act. But the party patronised National Herald newspaper tweeted, “Even in #Maharashtra #Savarkar has been a controversial personality with even the father of #Uddhav Thackeray accusing him of promoting falsehood and Brahmanism”.
The other member of the Maharashtra government, Shiv Sena, has for long been demanding Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour, to Savarkar.
Speaking to ThePrint, senior Maharashtra cabinet minister and NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said Pawar’s act was part of protocol as he dismissed anything more to it. “Ajit Pawar is the deputy chief minister. He garlanded the photograph as it was Savarkar’s birth anniversary today and it is the protocol of the Maharashtra government,” said Malik.
“The ideological differences with Savarkar are there but the government protocols have to be followed,” he added.
The politics of the act
Political analyst Sandeep Pradhan said there is much significance to Deputy CM Ajit Pawar’s action of today.
“This is the same Ajit Pawar who went to Raj Bhavan early in the morning and took oath along with Devendra Fadnavis. So today’s garlanding of the Savarkar photo speaks volumes,” said Pradhan, referring to the drama that played out last year before the three parties had formed an alliance.
“On the other hand, he is also giving the message that this government led by the Shiv Sena is stable and the NCP is endorsing the Shiv Sena’s views on Savarkar. The NCP has been on the same page as the Shiv Sena on many counts. The garlanding indicates it,” said Pradhan.
He added that the reaction of the Congress will be important as it is opposed to Savarkar.
However, Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant told ThePrint, “We oppose Savarkar’s ideology and strongly oppose his views. But we do not oppose him as a person. Hence, if someone wants to garland his photograph, why should we have any objection?”
The BJP did not get officially drawn into the “garlanding politics” but a senior party leader wondered whether the Congress will leave the Maha Vikas Aghadi government now.
“In Bengaluru, the Congress is protesting that the flyover has been named after Savarkar. In Mumbai, the deputy chief minister of the government who they partner is garlanding Savarkar’s photo and they are quiet. This is hypocrisy. Rahul Gandhi should clarify on this,” said the leader.
A second senior BJP leader said this act of Pawar holds particular significance as he is reiterating the message that he continues to be close to the BJP. “Ajit Pawar is our ally. He is a dependable ally. Going to Mantralaya and garlanding the photograph of Swantantraveer Savarkar is not a stray act. This is his way of telling us that he is an ally,” said the leader.
‘Not Rahul Savarkar’
In December 2019, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi had raised a political storm with his “I am Rahul Gandhi not Rahul Savarkar” jibe. At the time, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government was barely a month into the coalition.
An angry Shiv Sena had then warned Gandhi over his controversial comments on V.D. Savarkar. Deputy CM Ajit Pawar had then downplayed the entire issue, stating that everyone had great respect for Savarkar, but the BJP should first answer why Savarkar was not conferred the Bharat Ratna in the last five years despite two requests for it before the Narendra Modi government.
The BJP had then aggressively pushed for a motion to honour Savarkar in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly on the occasion of his death anniversary.
This demand was rejected by Speaker Nana Patole, who had held that it was against the rules. Pawar had questioned the BJP on the reasons for the Fadnavis government not moving the said motion despite being in power for five years.
HOW MUMBAI RAJ BHAVAN HAS BECOME CENTRE OF POLITICAL ACTIVITY AMID MAHARASHTRA COVID CRISIS
CIVIL SERVANTS GIVE INPUTS ON COVID SITUATION TO GOVERNOR BHAGAT SINGH KOSHYARI, WHILE BJP LEADERS HAVE APPROACHED HIM WITH COMPLAINTS ABOUT GOVT’S 'FAILURE' TO DEAL WITH CRISIS.
26 May, 2020 The Print
As it struggles to control the Covid-19 pandemic, Maharashtra finds itself in the thick of another battle. Tensions are high between Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and the Uddhav Thackeray government, and this has put the state’s Covid-19 situation at the mercy of two distinct power centres.
With Maharashtra recording by far the highest number of coronavirus cases among states, Koshyari is said to be displeased with the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government’s handling of the crisis. As a result, he has mounted an independent response against the pandemic.
Apart from the reviews they hold with the state government, civil servants have been giving inputs on the Covid-19 situation to Koshyari as well. He has also been repeatedly approached by leaders in the opposition BJP with complaints about the Uddhav Thackeray government’s “failure” to deal with Covid-19, triggering speculation about a conspiracy to unseat the MVA government.
While the BJP has denied the allegations, the MVA has taken a dim view of the governor’s “interference” in the Covid-19 response, with sources in the coalition saying the frost in their relationship has deepened to the point that it is barely cordial. This, even as the Shiv Sena publicly claims there’s no conflict between the chief minister and the governor.
The governor’s office, meanwhile, has refused to comment on the issue.
All these allegations and counter-allegations, amid fresh talk of cracks in the MVA, have lent the Maharashtra situation an image of uncertainty — an image it can ill afford as it tries to rein in the widening spread of Covid-19.
‘No political discussion’
There was much speculation Monday as Koshyari invited Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, an MVA constituent, for a meeting at Raj Bhavan. The meeting came after Thackeray allegedly spurned at least two invites from the Raj Bhavan last week, sending his PA to one of the meetings instead.
After meeting Koshyari, Pawar held a meeting with Thackeray at Matoshree, his residence-cum-office in suburban Bandra, around 6 pm. Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut was also present at the meeting.
Pawar’s party colleague and former union minister Praful Patel, who accompanied him to the meeting with Koshyari, said there was no discussion on political issues, but analysts said the heightened political activity at Raj Bhavan in recent days is significant.
While Koshyari has tried to oversee the Covid-19 situation since the beginning of the pandemic, through virtual interactions with civil servants, political activity at Raj Bhavan is said to have strengthened since 23 May, when Raut, who has been critical of the governor leading a parallel Covid watch, met him.
Later, the Raj Bhavan tweeted a photo of Raut bending before Koshyari with folded hands as the latter denied reports of a conflict between the two sides. On the same day, Pawar and Thackeray held a meeting.
At 6 pm the same day, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya, one of the most vocal critics of the state government’s Covid-19 response, met the governor. At the meeting, Somaiya, who has been highlighting alleged gaps in the functioning of government and BMC-run hospitals (BMC is led by the Shiv Sena) in Mumbai, is said to have apprised Koshyari of the government’s failings.
Later that evening at 8 pm, Thackeray’s close aide and PA Milind Narvekar met the governor at Raj Bhavan. Late Monday afternoon, former chief minister and BJP Rajya Sabha MP Narayan Rane met the governor too. Rane, who quit the Shiv Sena in 2005 following differences with Thackeray, is said to have informed the governor about the dismal condition of state-run hospitals in Maharashtra.
“The situation is going out of control. Uddhav Thackeray is unable to control the worsening situation,” he told the media later.
Since the lockdown was imposed on 25 March, former CM Devendra Fadnavis, the incumbent leader of the opposition in the assembly, has met the governor on three occasions, the latest being on 19 May.
It’s not just political activity, the governor has also invoked his role as chancellor of state-run universities to raise objection to a state government decision on higher-education institutes.
On 19 May, Higher and Technical Education Minister Uday Samant issued a letter to the University Grants Commission (UGC) seeking cancellation of final-year examinations in state-run universities amid the lockdown. The governor immediately fired a letter to Thackeray, asking him to issue “suitable instructions” to the minister for his “unwarranted interference”. Not conducting exams will constitute a breach of UGC rules, MVA sources quoted the letter as having said.
To add to the tensions, the governor now wants his office to be delinked from that of the government administration department (GAD) located at Mantralaya, the state secretariat. This department, which decides on routine administrative matters of the Raj Bhavan such as appointments and transfers, is headed by Thackeray.
The governor’s office has written to Thackeray seeking independent status for Raj Bhavan on the lines of the judiciary and the Vidhan Bhavan secretariat.
Explaining the request, a Raj Bhavan official said it was a bid to address certain administrative hiccups.
“Currently, many of the service-related issues, like salary, promotions etc, of the lower-level staff of Raj Bhavan gets stuck with the GAD. There are often long delays,” the official added.
“There is also a disparity in salaries of the lower-level staff at Mantralaya and Raj Bhavan. To avoid delays and ensure speedy decisions on service-related issues, this letter was sent to delink the administration of Raj Bhavan from GAD,” the official said.
A letter in this regard was sent to the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) in January, the official said, adding that “no communication has been received yet”.
Tug of war
The government, meanwhile, has dug in its heels against what it sees as the governor’s interference.
On 20 May, the governor summoned Chief Minister Thackeray and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar along with chief secretary Ajoy Mehta and other senior civil servants to Raj Bhavan for a meeting. Neither Thackeray nor Ajit Pawar attended the meeting, even though they had conveyed to Raj Bhavan that they would participate through video conferencing, sources in the CMO said.
Thackeray is also yet to respond to the governor’s letter on GDA, sources in the MVA said, confirming the Raj Bhavan official’s claim.
Sources in the MVA said BJP leaders’ frequent meetings with the governor made it clear that the party is “building a case for the dismissal of the Thackeray government”.
“The situation in Gujarat is worse than Maharashtra. Yet, that government is safe with no interference from the governor,” a senior cabinet minister said.
However, the BJP has denied the allegations. In a Facebook Live address Tuesday, Fadnavis said “the BJP is not interested in playing politics and bringing down the government”.
“However, the BJP will step up the pressure on the government to bring in corrective measures to contain the spread of coronavirus. The government has failed in this direction,” he added.
Experts are split about the MVA’s allegations of a BJP bid to destabilise the government.
Political analyst Pratap Asbe said the MVA government is facing a three-pronged attack. “The Centre, the BJP in Maharashtra and the governor are stifling the Maharashtra government from all sides. They are all together trying to prove that Maharashtra is a failed state,” said Asbe.
“The BJP, led by Fadnavis, is trying to destabilise the Maharashtra government, get it dismissed and bring in President’s rule by making the Centre declare a medical emergency in Maharashtra,” he added.
Analyst Vishwambhar Chowdhari, however, said the BJP will not take the risk of bringing down the government “even if they may get the chance”.
“There is unrest among the MVA constituent parties and the Congress seems very restless in the MVA. Probably the Congress feels that it is becoming inconvenient to remain in the government,” he added.
Asbe also said the governor is creating confusion among the civil servants through his review meetings. “The governor is undermining the office of the chief minister and an elected government. Who should the bureaucracy report to? The governor or the chief minister? This confusion has already started,” he added.
Koshyari has had a frosty relationship with the Uddhav Thackeray government since it was sworn in last November. In April, for example, Koshyari cited legal and technical complications and refused to nominate Thackeray to the Maharashtra Legislative Council, putting the latter’s leadership in peril.
Any minister in India, if sworn in without being a member of the legislature, has six months to seek election at the respective level (central or state). If they fail to get elected, they can’t hold their positions any longer. The deadline was 26 May for Thackeray.
Finally, Thackeray dialled Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought his intervention. The Election Commission subsequently announced polls to the legislative council and Thackeray was elected.
SHARAD PAWAR HAS TAKEN LEAD ROLE IN MAHARASHTRA COVID CRISIS, AND SHIV SENA DOESN’T MIND
SENIOR SHIV SENA LEADERS SAY THEY DON'T SEE PAWAR’S ROLE AS INTERFERENCE, ADDING THAT HIS EXPERIENCE IS VALUABLE.
26 May, 2020 The Print
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar seems to be driving the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra amid the coronavirus crisis.
Be it guiding civil servants and the chief minister, or approaching the central government for assistance, Pawar has been taking the lead in steering the state’s response to the pandemic, with Uddhav, an administrative greenhorn, largely following the lead of his veteran alliance partner.
Maharashtra is governed by a tripartite alliance involving the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress.
Six months into his maiden tenure as chief minister, Thackeray finds himself grappling with an unprecedented crisis in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite being under a lockdown, Maharashtra has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases among all states. As of Monday, Maharashtra had registered 50,231 Covid-19 cases (14,600 cured/discharged, 1,635 deaths), which is 36 per cent of India’s total. Of this, 30,542 cases have been reported from financial capital Mumbai alone.
Amid this crisis, the Shiv Sena says Pawar’s guidance is an asset, adding that the party does not see his involvement as interference.
A guiding light
Pawar’s lead role in Maharashtra’s Covid-19 response has been quite evident.
On Monday morning, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, who has been putting pressure on the chief minister to tackle the Covid-19 situation better, invited Pawar to Raj Bhavan for a meeting.
This was seen as crucial as the governor has been independently monitoring the pandemic situation in the state, and has been unhappy with the state’s response to the pandemic, said sources in the MVA.
Koshyari had earlier invited Thackeray, last week, but the chief minister sent his PA to the meeting instead.
Over the past few weeks, Pawar has held regular meetings with Thackeray, and also been an active participant in the Covid-19 briefings by the state’s civil servants.
Last week, Pawar held two meetings with Thackeray in a span of four days – on 19 May and 23 May, at the state government guest house Sahyadri at Malabar Hill and the old Mayor’s bungalow at Dadar, respectively. They also met on 15 May, and held multiple virtual meetings earlier.
At last week’s meetings, Pawar emphasised the need for ministers to start functioning from Mantralaya to instil confidence in the public, MVA sources said.
Mantralaya is serving as the Maharashtra Covid-19 control room, but most activity is driven by the state’s civil servants, with ministers tuning in virtually.
Only a handful of ministers are currently present in Mumbai, with the majority operating from their home constituencies. As cases rise in Mumbai, which may continue to be in the red zone for an extended period, even the ministers who are in the city have seemed unwilling to move out of their bungalows.
Thackeray has largely been functioning from Matoshree, his Bandra residence, stirring out rarely for inspections, and only a few of his ministers have been seen moving around and physically monitoring the situation.
Pawar, it is learnt, has told the chief minister that the image of ministers attending work at the government headquarters will instil confidence in the public.
Multiple MVA sources said Pawar is also keen that the chief minister himself start working from his office at Mantralaya.
Pawar, the sources added, has also been trying to convince Thackeray to ease the lockdown with a phase-wise exit plan. According to sources, Pawar has told Thackeray that an indefinite lockdown will cause the public’s patience to wear thin, and turn them against the government.
Speaking to ThePrint, a principal secretary said it was “not easy for a virtual government to function”.
“When we are taking a risk and coming to Mantralaya, it is also the duty and responsibility of the ministers to be present in person. In a pandemic, the government cannot be run in a virtual setting,” the principal secretary added.
A second senior civil servant said “Maharashtra cannot run on video meetings”.
“First, these ministers fought to be in the cabinet. Then they fought over cabinet berths. Now, when there is a pandemic, at a scale we have never seen before, these ministers are working from home,” the civil servant added.
Presenting the state’s case
However, it’s not solely an advisory role that Pawar is playing.
After a meeting with Thackeray on 15 May, Pawar visited the newly constructed Covid-19 centre at the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) Ground in the Bandra-Kurla Complex, and inspected the quarantine facility and makeshift hospital built by the civic agency.
The leader has also been holding regular FacebookLive interactions with the public on issues relating to agriculture, education, and industries, and the challenges being faced during the lockdown.
He regularly tweets on various challenges relating to the lockdown too. Earlier this month, after the central government gave its go-ahead for special Shramik Express trains to ferry stranded migrant labourers home, he requested the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Twitter to look into some states’ refusal to let the workers return.
On 15 May, he tweeted that he had written to the PMO, seeking his “urgent intervention to bail out #sugar industry from crisis aggravated exponentially by unprecedented nationwide lockdown in the wake of pandemic #Covid-19”.
On 26 April, he wrote to PM Narendra Modi and Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman suggesting a generous financial package for Maharashtra as it deals with the economic hit of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“So far, Mumbai is the hardest hit city in the Covid-19 outbreak and the prolonged lockdown conditions. It has severely impacted the economy of Maharashtra and may have detrimental consequences on the Indian economy if not addressed urgently,” he wrote in a letter that was released to the media.
Last week, he participated in the virtual conference of opposition leaders convened by Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi.
The Shiv Sena doesn’t seem miffed by Pawar’s initiative, and appears to have taken note of his guidance.
In his weekly column in Saamana, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, this Sunday, Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut issued a veiled warning to ministers who have kept away from Mantralaya. Raut said many ministers may lose their jobs if they do not start working from Mantralaya.
Speaking to ThePrint, senior Shiv Sena leaders said they didn’t see Pawar’s role as interference, adding that his experience is valuable as it gives the government direction at a difficult time.
Senior Shiv Sena leader and MLC Dr Neelam Gorhe said Pawar’s interactions with the chief minister and the ministers were “constructive dialogue for the government”.
“Basically, the Shiv Sena has very cordial relations with Pawar saheb. His experience is valuable to the government,” she added.
Another Shiv Sena leader said his active interactions with the civil servants keep them on their toes since the “bureaucracy respects Pawar”.
“The bureaucracy is not helping the government. They are divided among themselves and are engaged in ego tussles. Now, they have fallen in line,” said the senior leader.