Uddhav Thackeray: A new rallying point
Over the past month, Uddhav Thackeray has emerged as a new rallying point for almost all the non-BJP folks in the state. Admiration for him increased to such an extent that a fairly successful I support Uddhav Thackeray campaign was trending on social media.
The arrest of a television reporter in Mumbai has led to a difference of opinion amongst the supporters of the ruling government in Maharashtra. It is the repetition of a discussion that took place when one of the state cabinet minister’s supporters beat up a social media troll last week. In both these instances, those who disagreed with the actions taken agreed that those who were at the receiving end of these actions got what was coming to them. Barring such instances of disagreements with the state government or its leaders, the present crisis has resulted in strengthening the bonds of solidarity amongst all who do not want a return of a BJP-led government in the state.
Unexpectedly, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has emerged as the glue that strengthens these bonds. Over the past month, he has emerged as a new rallying point for almost all the non-BJP folks in the state. Admiration for him increased to such an extent that a fairly successful I support Uddhav Thackeray campaign was trending on social media. The campaign has seen the participation of activists and supporters of all the political parties that have allied to form the government in the state. It is a major sign of unity amongst the supporters of a multi-party government. This bonhomie may dither once the state returns to normalcy; however, presently two things are amply clear. One, the state government faces no immediate threats of collapse due to internal quarrelling and two, Uddhav Thackeray, now, is performing his duties as the Chief Minister of all the people and not merely as the leader of his party. Maharashtrians across the state have responded overwhelmingly to Uddhav Thackeray’s call for donations wherein about Rs 200 crore was donated in just a few days to the Chief Minister’s relief fund. Similarly, Uddhav Thackeray’s appeal to retired military personnel, medicos, and anyone with a para-medical training to enrol themselves for state’s services during the pandemic has witnessed thousands of responses from all corners of the state.
Modi supporters in the state are puzzled at the high approval ratings for the Chief Minister amongst non-BJP people. After all, Maharashtra has the highest number of COVID-19 patients and maximum deaths due to coronavirus amongst all the states in the country. If numbers are the only criteria, Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan should earn as much praise. Uddhav Thackeray’s admirers are not comparing him with his Kerala counterpart, however. In Maharashtra, it’s a perception battle between the state’s Chief Minister and the country’s Prime Minister. Their communication with people and their actions are constantly compared, and the scale is tilting in favour of Uddhav Thackeray. He is praised for his transparency in stating the facts with figures in all his communications. The number of patients, number of deaths, hotspot areas, preparedness on the part of the government in terms of the number of hospitals and hospital beds etc. are often quoted by him to appraise the state’s population about the ever-changing situation. His addresses are balanced in terms of providing dos and don’ts to the people, as well as giving out details as to what the state government is doing and intends to do. He is trying to be as inclusive as possible and is avoiding the mud-slinging against the opposition or the central government. Rather, in most of the addresses, Uddhav talks about his communications with the central government, including the Prime Minister, the guidance of Sharad Pawar, the work of his cabinet colleagues, and the support extended by his bête-noire Raj Thackeray to the state government’s efforts in fighting the spread of the coronavirus. Uddhav is following a political trend amongst the Chief Ministers, i.e. not to take Narendra Modi by the horns, but to tame his popularity by not competing with him.
Three issues as addressed by Uddhav Thackeray in his communications make him a worthy Chief Minister at this critical time. One, he has openly warned the perpetrators of fake news, particularly those that are targeting any social or religious communities by spreading rumours, fake news, and doctored videos. Can we expect our honourable Prime Minister to do the same? Uddhav Thackeray’s warning, indeed, worked in Maharashtra; the hatemongering messages on social media declined to a significant extent. His government has also arrested someone who threatened that one of the cabinet ministers of the state would meet an end like Narendra Dabholkar. These people have developed a notion over the last six years that they are above the law of the country.
Two, Uddhav Thackeray has asked all religious leaders to immediately halt religious gatherings for any purposes. He specifically called upon Maulanas across the state to ensure strict compliance. Much to the disappointment of the saffron brigade, everybody heeded this call. Minority organizations and their leaders, as well as secular groups and individuals, came together in unity to obey the Chief Minister. On the other hand, much to the surprise of the progressive community in the state, Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana wrote a full-scale editorial doubting the essentiality of religious places and religious congregations of all religions and questioned their utility during the time of crisis for the human race. The editorial was so well argued with reason and comprehensive with mention of all major religions that no one could object to it. Uddhav Thackeray's wife is the chief editor of Saamana even though it is published in the name of its executive editor, Sanjay Raut.
Three, Uddhav Thackeray has been proactive in assuring the migrants from other states about the supply of food, water, and shelter to them, and urging them to stay put safely until the lockdown continues, or the central government makes arrangements for their transportation. Even if his government is falling short, like many other state governments, in terms of actually reaching out to the migrants and providing them adequate relief, his public assurance to them in itself has a high significance. The migrants could have been easy scapegoats for the party that has its roots in anti-migrant politics. However, Uddhav Thackeray seems determined to write a new chapter in the politics of the Shiv Sena by projecting himself as a man of good and inclusive governance. Sincerity, frankness, inclusivity, firmness, and an unbiased approach have emerged as the hallmarks of this Chief Minister’s leadership in the state. One only has to assess the Prime Minister’s addresses to the nation on these parameters to see the difference.