How will CM Thackeray’s current illness affect the MVA govt?  

CM Uddhav Thackeray
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As Rohit Sharma’s India XI thrashed New Zealand 3-0 in the recent T20 series, the buzz in India’s sports media was about how suddenly nobody seems to be missing Virat Kohli. Young batsmen scored well and gave India a thumping victory they needed and people almost forgot about Kohli! 

However, in the political sphere, replacements don’t come so easy or so swiftly. Maharashtra’s Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government is very badly missing Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray as he is now recovering from recent neck surgery. The recovery is going to take much more time than what was previously expected.

Originally it was expected that Uddhav will be back after the surgery in about a week and may need perhaps just a week more rest at home. But doctors now say certain unexpected complications will result in delayed recovery and the Chief Minister will be out of action for at least eight weeks perhaps even more! The Chief Minister of one of the largest and most industrialised states in the country being ‘out of action’ is going to result in a lot of things getting delayed, being stuck or adversely affected in Maharashtra.

The winter session of the state assembly is the biggest thing that has got affected because of the Chief Minister’s illness. As things stand, the last few sessions of the Maharashtra state assembly have not been full-fledged sessions like earlier. COVID restrictions forced the government to curtail these sessions majorly. Various discussions, debates on bills and issues could not happen the way they should happen. On top of that now this upcoming winter session seems hazy in terms of the timetable mainly because there is uncertainty over when the Chief Minister will return to action.

The second biggest thing that is getting affected is the top appointments of bureaucrats and officials. State Chief secretary Sitaram Kunte was due to retire on 30th November and a new appointment was expected to be announced before his tenure was over. Now he has been given a three months extension. Such decisions do not go down well with the bureaucracy as the next person due for promotion feels dejected and disappointed if the decision gets pushed three months ahead. The Director General of Police (DGP) is also due for retirement in the near future and his successor is also to be appointed by the government. This process might get affected or delayed because the Chief Minister is going to be away from the office for eight weeks or more.

There are countless issues pending before the state. One of the biggest is the ongoing strike by the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) employees, Entire public transport infrastructure in rural Maharashtra has collapsed and connectivity and mobility for passengers between towns and district places have come to a grinding halt. In CM’s absence, the issue must be handled by the state cabinet and some resolution must be quickly found.

It is not clear whether the weekly meeting of the state cabinet is going to be conducted normally and decisions will be taken on various important issues pending before the government. NCP leader Ajit Pawar is the Deputy Chief Minister and he should be in a position to preside over the Cabinet meetings but there is still no clarity about why it has officially not been announced that Pawar will officiate as ‘acting chief minister’ till Uddhav returns to the office. When a sitting Chief Minister is on a foreign tour or is incapacitated because of medical reasons or other similar causes, it is appropriate to appoint some member of the cabinet as ‘acting chief minister’.

BJP leader Nitesh Rane took a dig at Uddhav Thackeray a couple of days ago over why the Chief Minister had not handed over the charge temporarily to the Deputy Chief Minister when it became obvious that he was going to be out of action because of medical reasons. Rane asked whether this means that the CM does not trust his coalition partners in the government.

Various appointments with business leaders, investors and foreign dignitaries are usually part of the schedule in any Chief Ministers daily engagements. All these must be now postponed and some of them perhaps suddenly cancelled. Sources say there is no clarity over who can take lead and hold these meetings with dignitaries in Chief Minister’s temporary absence. 

The people of Maharashtra, all of us including this author, wish Uddhav Thackeray a speedy recovery from his illness and healthy long life, however, it is advisable that in the future, during his foreign tours or absence for any other reason, he should name one of his senior colleagues from the cabinet as ‘acting chief minister’. That will ensure the smooth running of the government in the state of Maharashtra.

rohit chandavarkar

(The author is a senior journalist from broadcast and print media, who worked with India’s various leading media companies for over 30 years in senior positions.)