History was made in Maharashtra Thursday when Uddhav Thackeray took the oath as the state’s chief minister, becoming the first Thackeray to become head of the state government since the Shiv Sena’s founding in 1966 by Mr Thackeray’s redoubtable father Balasaheb, who ran the Sena as a tight outfit steeped in regional chauvinism politics, with dollops of majority community chauvinism, and one that did not balk at street violence to gain its ends.
It’s fair to say that since Balasaheb's death in 2012, Uddhav Thackeray’s politics has been somewhat more moderate. Nevertheless, he too didn’t omit to raise the communal pitch in the Sena’s competition with the BJP, which in due course became the senior partner of the BJP-Sena coalition which ended recently after a quarter century.
The new CM is partnering the NCP and Congress after he walked out of the BJP alliance over severe intra-coalition trouble with that party. It has naturally become a matter of great political curiosity if the Sena leader will be able to provide a stable government in association with the secular Congress and the secular but wholly pragmatic NCP, a breakaway Congress outfit with roots in Maharashtra.
A coalition of similar parties also faces serious problems. The erstwhile BJP-Sena association is but a recent example. The BJP’s ties with several secular parties in other states point in that direction. Dr Manmohan Singh’s UPA government faced intense difficulties with its secular allies that frequently sided with the BJP in Parliament to embarrass the Congress. In Britain, the Tories and Labour have had coalition trouble when they teamed up with the Liberal Democrats.
In contrast, in recent years the Congress had fruitful ties with the DMK, although the former was deeply suspicious of the Tamil Nadu party after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
In the end, much depends on how each partner observes what the late Atal Behari Vajpayee called “coalition dharma”. The coalition government Mr Thackeray leads has arrived at a common minimum programme which, besides policy questions, has also conceptually emphasised “secularism”.
Some may mock this while others may see a sign of hope. If the first Thackeray, who is yet to enter the legislature, is to seek to stay in office for a full five-year term, he may be obliged to be a moderate and shift away from divisive chauvinist and communal politics. The compulsions of office may play some part in holding the ship together.
On the other hand, spoilers could emerge from the NCP or the Congress on questions of pressing for a greater share of power, and not from the Sena. As NCP leader Ajit Pawar last weekend thought nothing of joining hands with the BJP, who is to say the BJP may not once again seek to explore if he is the weak link of the Thackeray government? Even so, it can’t be assumed the Thackeray show is doomed to flop.