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Can the Maharashtra government survive the current crisis?

Amitabh Tiwari
·Columnist
·4-min read

The 1.5-year-old Uddhav Thackeray-led coalition government in Maharashtra is facing its biggest crisis.

The Maha Vikas Aghadi government — a coalition cobbled up with Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, Sharad Pawar’s National Congress Party and the Congress party — has been rocked by two scandals, one after the other.

The arrest of Mumbai Police officer Sachin Vaze in the Ambani bomb scare case and the allegations of corruption/extortion against the state Home Minister Anil Deshmuk by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh.

The National Investigation Agency has taken over the Ambani case and arrested Sachin Vaze.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Member of Parliament Kirit Somaiya has said that apart from the former Mumbai Police Commissioner, Chief Minister and Home Minister too are responsible for what happened outside Antilia, the residence of industrialist Mukesh Ambani, when an SUV laden with gelatin sticks and a note threatening the safety of the Ambani family was found.

Rajya Sabha proceedings were adjourned till 2 pm on March 22 amid uproar over corruption allegations in Maharashtra. Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar raised the Maharashtra issue referring to the alleged corruption in the state.

The ex-Mumbai police chief in a letter to the Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray alleged that the state Home Minister had asked Sachin Vaze to collect Rs 100 crore every month from bars and hotels in the city.

BJP leaders and workers staged protests in various cities demanding the resignation of Anil Deshmukh, as per news reports.

It was reported in a section of the press that over the weekend National Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar is contemplating the removal of Anil Deshmukh from the Cabinet considering the seriousness of the charges against him.

However, in a press conference today (March 22) he ruled out any action against the home minister saying, "The Mumbai ATS is probing the matter and the probe is in the right direction. Now to divert attention from that, vague allegations have been levelled by Parambir Singh."

Pawar said that Deshmukh was ailing from coronavirus and in a hospital at the time Parambir alleges that he met Sachin Vaze and discussed an extortion racket.

BJP IT Head Amit Malviya, however, fact-checked Pawar’s claims and released a video where Deshmukh is seen conducting a press conference on February 15.

The crisis has hit the MVA at a time when Maharashtra tops the coronavirus cases in the country and Mumbai has registered the highest single-day spike in cases since the start of the pandemic.

The twin scandals have come as a blessing in disguise for the BJP which has been suffering losses in Maharashtra since losing out on government formation in 2019, despite winning the state elections, due to differences with ally Shiv Sena.

The BJP lost the municipal polls in Nagpur (RSS headquarters), mayoral elections in Jalgaon and Sangli, and 5 of the 6 MLC seats which went to polls last year.

Shiv Sena had teamed up with NCP and Congress to form a government in Maharashtra after BJP refused sharing of the top post. Many political pundits had then predicted that the MVA government would not last its full term and fall under the weight of its inherent contradictions.

The alliance of staunch saffron parties with secular parties was unnatural at first place.

MVA enjoys the support of 169 MLAs in a house of 288, where the simple majority mark is 145. The dynamics of the strength of the parties in the Maharashtra assembly is such that the BJP cannot form a government without the support of either NCP or Sena. Power is the glue which has been holding the parties in the MVA together.

The BJP is demanding that the alleged extortion case should be investigated by a central agency so that the truth comes out. It is applying pressure on the Chief Minister to drop Deshmukh.

The state leadership hopes that circumstances lead to the imposition of President’s Rule in the state.

However, the top leadership of BJP may not want to try out any such misadventure after the mishap in 2019 where it made a failed bid to form government with support of Ajit Pawar camp.

We have seen in corruption cases like 2G, CWG, Coal Gate etc. that these are very difficult to prove in a court of law. Currently these are mere allegations by Parambir Singh. Some valid questions remain.

Why didn’t he report this matter earlier? Why did he write about it only after being removed as Mumbai top cop? What is the proof he has, if any? Is it not just a diversionary tactic to deflect shortcomings in investigation in the Antilla case?

In the end it is a battle of public perception. The chief minister knows this very well and may remove the home minister, handing over the enquiry to an independent body, to avert the crisis.

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