Amidst all the turbulent talks and strategies in Maharashtra over the fate of the Maharashtra government Vikas Aghadi (MVA), the Shiv Sena chose to move forward on three of the most contentious issues in the state. First, the blue-eyed boy of Transport Minister and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Anil Parab, proposed to rename the city of Aurangabad as Sambhaji Nagar in honor of King Maratha. Then came a proposal to allocate land in Bandra (East), Mumbai, for the construction of houses for the approximately 3,000 government employees who have been staying there for years. Finally, the government has agreed to rename the under-construction airport Navi Mumbai in honor of the late farmer leader Di. Ba. Patil in place of his father Bal Thackeray.
What explains this sudden resurgence of activity in the midst of a political crisis? On hold since the 1990s, the Sena had aggressively pushed the request to rename Aurangabad until November 2019 when Thackeray became the CM. At a rally in Aurangabad on June 4, in an apparent turnaround, the CM pushed the ball into the Center’s court. “I call this town Sambhaji Nagar. What is the need to rename it? he said at the rally. The Center should first rename Aurangabad Airport to Chhatrapati Sambhaji Airport. On June 28, Parab told reporters, “I offered to rename Aurangabad at a cabinet meeting today.”
The sudden announcement at a time when the government’s existence is uncertain took many by surprise. While some political observers see it as an attempt to dilute criticism that the party has strayed from Hindutva principles for political gain, others see it as an exit plan for Uddhav Thackeray if Congress objects. to this decision. Congress, a constituent of the MVA, vehemently opposed the name change for fear of alienating its traditional Muslim voting base. And if Congress sticks to its position, Thackeray, says a senior Sena leader, “has the opportunity to become a martyr for the cause of Hindutva. It will help him in the long run.
Thackeray is in no mood to face a vote of confidence in the assembly, the Sena chief reveals. He sees no point in seeking the confidence of the deputies who abandoned him and conspired to overthrow his government. “Uddhavji could resign as soon as he is asked to prove his majority in the House,” the Sena chief said. “He’s trying to gain as much sympathy as possible before the matchday.”
Congress, for its part, did not immediately state its position. The party will probably express its opinion only in the Council of Ministers.
Like the proposal to rename Aurangabad, that of providing housing for government employees had also been much debated for more than a decade. PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal in 2010 rejected the employees’ request to give them houses, saying they were not entitled to a private house at government expense because the government already provided them with accommodation. The latest proposal is seen as an attempt by Sena to win the sympathy of government employees. If the proposal is accepted, Sena can claim credit for meeting its long-standing demand. If rejected, the party can blame the NCP and Congress for blocking it. If the proposal is accepted and the government falls later, its implementation will be the headache of the new government. The Sena may make this an issue in the campaign for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation election which will probably be held in October. The state government will have to give up around Rs 2,000 crore in revenue if the land is allocated for housing its employees. No government would want to lose so much revenue.
Meanwhile, as Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections approach in October, Thackeray has conceded the demand of Navi Mumbai residents that the new airport be renamed in a fitting tribute to Di. Ba. Patil, who had fought the government to get adequate compensation for the farmers instead of acquiring their land to build Navi Mumbai, a satellite city of Mumbai, in the late 1980s. And granting the wish of the sons of the soil cannot to bring in a rich electoral dividend.