The Budget session of the Maharashtra Assembly started off with a bang on March 2. On Sunday, 24 hours before the session, Forest Minister Sanjay Rathod gave in his resignation to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who accepted it and took over the portfolio himself.
The resignation was prompted by an investigation over the suicide of a woman in Pune in which Rathod’s name was mentioned. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been planning to disrupt proceedings in the Assembly over this. Rathod’s resignation took the sting out of the attack, but it threw light on the BJP’s focus on destabilising the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra. Despite repeated attempts by the saffron forces and the trying pressures of the last year, the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA has remained stable. Even the harshest critics of the Shiv Sena concede that Uddhav Thackeray has led the government calmly and listened to experienced advice.
In the first week of February, newspapers reported the death of a 22-year-old woman named Pooja Chavan, who fell from the balcony of her flat in Pune. The story stayed in the news as photographs and audio clips were circulated linking her to Rathod. Though investigations are on and the police are verifying the authenticity of the clips, the BJP has pushed for stringent action against Rathod and demanded the initiation of a criminal case against him.
Rathod, who is the first Minister to resign from the MVA, said: “The opposition is playing dirty politics. Investigation must be conducted impartially and action taken if anybody is found guilty. There should not be any pressure on investigative agencies to save someone from the case or destroy someone’s life.” He said he was confident of the truth coming out and had therefore submitted his resignation.
Also read: Uddhav Thackeray takes electoral test
Some relief for Rathod came in the form of the girl’s parents who met Uddhav Thackeray and said that while they wanted an investigation, they believed that the allegations against Rathod were baseless. In a letter addressed to Uddhav Thackeray, the parents and sister of the girl wrote: “No one should be made a scapegoat only because of suspicion. We have never demanded the resignation of Rathod. While we have lost our daughter, politics is being played daily on her death. So, don’t take the resignation of Rathod by making him an accused due to politics.”
This incident is just the latest in a long list of accusations and ploys by the BJP. Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee president Nana Patole said the opposition in Maharashtra was using all its energies to disrupt the government instead of being a mature, responsible opposition.
The BJP has used every opportunity to lash out at Uddhav Thackeray ever since he broke off the Shiv Sena’s 30-year-old partnership with the BJP after the 2019 Assembly election and formed the government as part of the MVA. It has criticised the handling of the COVID-19 crisis, has said that farmers have not received a crop loan waiver or their promised incentives. Devendra Fadnavis, Leader of the Opposition and former Chief Minister, alleged that three and a half lakh farmers had had their electricity turned off and 75 lakh citizens had been threatened with power disconnection for non-payment of bills.
“If farmers and poor people are subject to such administrative atrocities by the government, it amounts to the Mughal regime,” said Fadnavis, never missing a chance to make communal comments.Fadnavis even criticised non-issues such as the MVA not celebrating the birth anniversary of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who formulated the divisive ideology of Hindutva.
COVID control measures
In the ongoing Budget session Fadnavis accused the government of mismanaging the coronavirus crisis. Uddhav Thackeray responded saying that even the Centre’s team that recently visited the State to assess COVID control measures had acknowledged the State’s efforts. The team said that the system had exhausted itself because of incessant toil. The Chief Minister said the State was increasing health care facilities and widening the net for vaccine eligibility.
Uddhav Thackeray reiterated he was not in favour of a lockdown. “I don’t want to leave people hungry. I don’t want the economy to halt,” he said, taking a dig at the four-hour notice given on March 24, 2020, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a lockdown.
He reminded the opposition that when he had asked the Prime Minister to stop local trains and give long-distance trains to help those from other States return home, he got no response. “We ensured that the poor were fed. And yet you blame us,” he said pointing a finger at the BJP’s duplicity.
While Uddhav Thackeray has responded each time to the BJP’s jibes with a calmness that is in direct contrast to that of his father Bal Thackeray, others in the MVA have tackled the BJP head on. The newly appointed State Congress chief Nana Patole has injected a fighting spirit into not just the weak State unit of the party but also into the MVA.
When the BJP raised a hue over Rathod, Patole hit out at the BJP over the suicide of Mohan Delkar, the Independent Member of Parliament from Dadra and Nagar Haveli who was found dead in a Mumbai hotel. Delkar’s 15-page note alleged torture and harassment and named names. The note also mentions his appeals to the Prime Minister, Home Minister and Parliament and the lack of response to them.
Taking the fight into the BJP’s corner, Patole hit out at the party for its lack of cooperation during the coronavirus crisis, for the soaring fuel prices and for the Centre’s agricultural blunders.
Also read: Maharashtra 2019 election results
Joining the fray is Sachin Sawant, the general secretary and spokesperson of the State Congress unit. Throwing a volley of questions and counter-accusations at the BJP, he asked, “Why was Nihalchand [Meghwal], who was accused of rape in 2014, taken into the Cabinet and why did Prime Minister Modi not resign even after the allegations were made? Why was the audio tape of the police surveillance of a woman in Gujarat suppressed by BJP leaders? An audio tape of a BJP Union Minister came out while trying to overthrow the Congress government in Rajasthan. In this tape, the Minister was openly trying to bribe the MLAs.
The Minister did not provide audio samples and said the tapes were bogus. The country has seen BJP leaders backing rapists in the Kathua, Unnao and Hathras rape cases. Sakshi Maharaj had gone to meet BJP MLA Kuldip Singh Sengar, who was sent to jail in connection with the rape case [Unnao]. The victim attempted suicide in front of Chief Minister Adityanath’s house and her father is killed, and in the Chinmayanand case the victim is arrested. So the BJP has no moral right to speak of anything.” In the face of all this he BJP would have been expected to back off, but the loss of 2019 obviously rankles still. As do the losses of the BJP strongholds of Nagpur and Pune in the 2019 election.