Two months into office, as Thackeray begins to get a grip on the administration and outlines his vision for Maharashtra, a few things are clear: a revamp of Mumbai, stronghold of the Shiv Sena, will receive his special attention. The new chief minister is also keen to be seen as an accessible administrator.
Political observers were puzzled when Thackeray agreed to give his allies, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, the most plum portfolios. The Sena has direct control over only two major portfolios-urban development and agriculture. The rest, including home, finance, public works, revenue, power, water resources, education, health and tribal development, are with the allies.
A Sena insider says Thackeray’s priority is to strengthen the party in Mumbai. In the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections due in February 2022, he wants the party to win over a hundred out of the 227 seats. With an annual budget of around Rs 25,000 crore, the BMC is the richest civic body in Asia. “Two years may seem like a long period, but we want to focus on the BMC election from now,” says the insider.
Thackeray has made son and tourism minister Aaditya a ‘guardian minister’ for the Mumbai Suburban district, though he was elected MLA from the Mumbai City district. In the BMC election held in 2017, the BJP had posed a big challenge to the Sena in Mumbai’s suburbs, bagging 82 seats, just two short of the Sena’s tally. As a guardian minister has authority to plan a district’s annual expenditure, Aaditya is expected to pump money into areas where the Sena hopes to reap benefits in the next BMC election. A planning meeting of the Mumbai Suburban district that Aaditya chaired on January 22 okayed development works for an estimated Rs 3,000 crore.
The government’s key initiatives in Mumbai include segregation of waste, planting 400,000 saplings of Indian origin in 65 areas, revival of the ‘Mumbai Eye’ project on the lines of the London Eye, and a Rs 100 crore industrial training institute.
According to the Sena insider, Thackeray wants to showcase “constructive work” in a bid to placate a wide section of party sympathisers who are upset with him for joining hands with the Congress and NCP and veering off the Hindutva agenda. “Thackeray gave the NCP and the Congress an upper hand in government as part of a conscious strategy. He wanted the government to be stable so that he can focus on his priorities,” says the insider.
Congress legislator Anant Gadgil says the Congress should learn from the Sena and give priority to the urban areas, where it has been losing support.
Thackeray has also mounted a public relations exercise to project himself as a people’s leader. Once a week, he meets commoners at the Mantralaya, hearing out their grievances. He called over a 21-year-old Dombivali student who sells peanuts, and assured him of financial assistance for his education. “The chief minister has instructed us to read each and every letter to the editor published in local newspapers and report to him about public opinion and complaints,” says an official in Thackeray’s office.
Thackeray has initiated various reforms to decentralise power. Within a month of the announcement on December 21, chief minister’s sub-offices have been set up at each of the six revenue headquarters, where officials receive public complaints and forward them to respective departments. “I do not want people to travel all the way to Mumbai for problems that can be solved locally,” Thackeray has said. Agriculture assistance centres have come up in all 36 districts of the state. The chief minister has, on similar lines, mooted disaster management cells in each district.
Sources say Thackeray has conveyed to his ministers that he will not interfere in their departments’ day-to-day work unless it is a policy matter. In his very first meeting with bureaucrats, he made it clear that he will sign a file only after the chief secretary clears it and that no minister or bureaucrat should approach him directly bypassing set protocol and procedure. A senior bureaucrat sees Thackeray as a quick learner. “We were sceptical at first as he used to step into office only towards the afternoon. But he has moulded himself and is showing interest in administration,” he says. A Congress leader, however, argues that Thackeray’s approach will give the bureaucracy too much power and reduce ministers to rubber stamps.
So far, Thackeray has managed to keep relations between the allies fairly smooth, stepping in, if need be, to douse fires. When Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut claimed that former prime minister Indira Gandhi used to visit underworld don Karim Lala in Mumbai, Thackeray got Aaditya to pacify Congress leaders. Aaditya called on Raut and conveyed to him that Thackeray wanted him to issue a quick clarification that he had great respect for the late leader. “One does not need to give history references all the time,” Aaditya also said, in a public snub to Raut.
Source INDIA TODAY