A 90-minute meeting between Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar on Monday evening, hours after the NCP chief met Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, triggered speculation about the stability of the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition government, which is set to complete six months on Thursday.
However, on Tuesday morning, Pawar, seen as the glue holding the three-party coalition of the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress together, scotched talk of a political realignment in the state, and said there was “no threat” to the government.
Pawar’s meeting with the chief minister, held at Thackeray’s residence Matoshree, came as the main opposition BJP has stepped up its criticism of the Thackeray government’s alleged mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis in Maharashtra.
Over the past few days, several senior BJP leaders have gone to Raj Bhavan to complain about the government. Narayan Rane met Koshyari on Monday and called for President’s Rule. There has been talk that MLAs of the three ruling parties were being approached with offers to jump ship.
But on Tuesday, Pawar told NDTV: “There is no threat to the Maharashtra government. All MLAs are with us, any attempt to break them at this time will result in the public beating us.”
The meeting at Matoshree followed what is said to have been Pawar’s first visit to the Thackeray family home since 2012.
“The Maha Vikas Aghadi government will complete its five-year term and we will fight the elections together after five years,” Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, who attended the meeting, said.
Asked what had brought Pawar to Matoshree, Raut said it was to discuss the Covid situation. “There is nothing surprising in Pawar coming to Matoshree. We sought guidance from him on the government’s future and on the handling of the Covid-19 situation. There is nothing wrong in seeking guidance from him; Prime Minister Narendra Modi also seeks guidance from Pawar,” Raut said.
It is, however, no secret that the three parties differ over Thackeray’s strategy for easing the lockdown. There has also been resentment in the cabinet over Thackeray’s reliance on the bureaucracy, who have been given a lot of power to decide on the state’s Covid strategy. There have been complaints that officials are keeping ministers in the dark.
Sources in the Sena said that while Pawar is keen on granting some relaxations to put the state on the path to normalcy, the chief minister is in favour of retaining the restrictions to contain the outbreak and save lives. The meeting focussed on the strategy to exit the Lockdown in Mumbai, Pune, and other Covid hotspots, the sources said.
Thackeray is learnt to have asked officials after the meeting to decide on a phased exit strategy from May 31 onwards, with the aim to resume most economic activities by June 15.
In Delhi, BJP leaders said that while Thackeray had failed to contain the spread of the Coronavirus disease, the central leadership of the party did not want to topple the government at this time.
Instead, the BJP would prefer to “mount pressure on the Thackeray government, and let it crumble on its own,” at least four leaders of the party told The Indian Express. The BJP would intensify its campaign for President’s Rule because the Maha Vikas Aghadi government had “utterly failed to contain the coronavirus situation” and “to manage the issue of exodus of migrant labourers”, these leaders said.
Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis told reporters on Tuesday that the BJP was not interested in pulling down the government, but it “will fall of its own burden”.
The BJP’s national leadership has had several rounds of meetings with the state leadership. While party president J P Nadda had a meeting with the BJP core group of the state on Monday, another meeting with core group leaders and the national leaders took place on Tuesday.
Sources said the national leadership wanted Fadnavis and the party to attack on the entire government instead of focussing just on the chief minister. “The national leadership wants the state unit to keep the pressure on, but does not want it to take the blame of toppling it, which could create sympathy for Thackeray. Even if the government falls on its own, the BJP may not stake claim immediately. The party prefers the state to be under central rule which would be the best, because the COVID situation has gone out of control already,” said a party leader.