Mumbai: Fissures have emerged once again within Maharashtra’s ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government with ministers racing to make big policy announcements, sometimes even before they are formally approved, to score political points for themselves and their parties.
Congress minister Vijay Wadettiwar, who holds the disaster management portfolio, Thursday announced a five-phased plan to bring the state out of the Covid-induced lockdown. At a press conference, he named 18 districts that would be free of restrictions from Friday.
However, Waddetiwar’s declaration was followed by frantic calls and messages from Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s office to journalists, claiming that so such decision has been taken.
Later, the state government also issued a formal statement that it was still assessing the situation in various districts, and a proposal to unlock it was under consideration but no final decision had been taken.
This incident is just the latest in a string of credit wars that have been going on within the three-party coalition government, comprising the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress. In the past, several ministers have unveiled important policy announcements, often before the approval of the cabinet, much to the chagrin of other ministers in the council and the CM.
According to senior party leaders and experts, in a coalition, jostling for space to claim credit is bound to happen. However, in the MVA, the problem is exacerbated because of the lack of an official spokesperson, a coordination committee that rarely meets and a CM who is used to working in a party with a single leadership system.
Internal ‘credit wars’
According to a senior Shiv Sena leader close to the CM, rash decisions by ministers create “unnecessary confusion”.
“These decisions are policy related and extremely sensitive. It is important to be cautious while speaking on such issues. Such incidents within a government unnecessarily create confusion in the minds of the people. It also gives a bad impression about the bureaucracy and the political administration,” the leader told ThePrint.
He added: “The CM has taken a strong stand about what happened yesterday and expressed his thoughts about this internally.”
Meanwhile, a state Congress functionary, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint that Wadettiwar was not entirely wrong in making the announcement.
“He holds the disaster management portfolio. From what we hear the plan was as good as finalised. Now, one doesn’t know whether it was decided that the minister will go ahead and make the announcement. In any case, there is no rule book that only the CM can make announcements,” the functionary said.
Wadettiwar has ruffled feathers within the cabinet earlier too, by announcing important decisions before meetings, MVA sources noted.
For instance, in April, the minister who also holds the relief and rehabilitation portfolio, informed reporters about an impending statewide lockdown, two days before CM Thackeray decided to bring it into effect.
Other ministers had similarly created confusion in April by publicly announcing the state government’s decision to vaccinate the entire population of Maharashtra free of cost.
NCP’s Nawab Malik, who holds the minority affairs and skill development portfolios, announced the government’s free vaccination plan and its decision to float a global tender to procure vaccines. Shiv Sena minister Aaditya Thackeray also tweeted out the decision, only to delete the post minutes later, saying he did not want to create confusion.
Malik’s announcement and Thackeray’s tweet drew much flak from the Congress, which saw the ministers’ statements as an attempt to take credit for the populist decision, multiple MVA leaders told ThePrint.
According to political analyst Hemant Desai, a primary problem is the refusal of ministers to accept Uddhav Thackeray’s leadership as the final word.
“There never seems to be one voice of the MVA. Everyone says different things on the same issue. During Fadnavis’ tenure, he was the only one to make major statements. No other minister would speak. The MVA on the other hand has become like Janata Party, where everyone makes announcements and they are often contrary to each other,” Desai told ThePrint.
‘Coordination committee largely on paper’
Maharashtra’s state Cabinet does not have an official ministerial spokesperson unlike the earlier Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government in the state.
“It would help to have a designated spokesperson because in a coalition government, these problems are bound to come up. Some tug of war over credit and power is natural,” said a Shiv Sena functionary.
Meanwhile, early last year, the MVA set up a coordination committee of its ministers from all three parties, to largely ensure that the common minimum programme is being followed and to iron out any creases.
However, MVA leaders noted that the committee — which includes Shiv Sena’s Eknath Shinde and Subhash Desai, NCP’s Ajit Pawar and Jayant Patil, and the Congress’ Balasaheb Thorat and Ashok Chavan — rarely meets or discusses issues within the alliance partners.
Desai noted that the Congress’ non-participation in the government is also a major issue. “Another problem within the alliance is that the Congress leadership is not as involved in the functioning of the MVA. The party does not have set dos and don’ts for its ministers in the state government,” he said.
But Congress functionaries said there is coordination within the party.
“The general secretary in charge, H.K. Patil, had held a meeting with Maharashtra’s ministers last week, so there is a coordination. But, if you compare it with NCP, though NCP has national recognition, it has a predominantly Maharashtra presence so naturally the leadership focuses more on the state,” said Anant Gadgil, Congress’ national panel spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the opposition BJP has slammed the MVA as a coalition of one CM and many super CMs.
Speaking to reporters in Nagpur Friday, former CM Devendra Fadnavis said, “This government has one CM and many super CMs. Often the super CMs speak before the CM can.”
“There is no problem in ministers speaking, but at least on major policy decisions, (it) would be better if there is consensus and either the CM or one designated person makes the correct announcement,” he added.
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