Mumbai: The oath-taking ceremony for Maharashtra’s 19th chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray, was a show of grand opulence. The stage, the likes of which are usually seen only in movie sets, had it all – a flash of colours, magnificence and a display on King Shivaji. The stage was specially designed by Bollywood’s most sought-after set designer, Nitin Desai.
But hours before the grand event came a development that the three alliance members – Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress – have been discussing for a while now: what their common minimum programme (CMP) will be.
What the government plans to do
One of the most contentious issues for the alliance was the CMP. Once before, since the three parties hadn’t been able to reach a consensus, the Shiv Sena had missed the chance to form government.
On November 28, hours before the oath ceremony, the parties announced their CMP. The CMP is seen as a “working solution” to bring three ideologically divergent parties on to a single platform.
The newly formed government, amid initial protests from the Sena, has promised to uphold secular values in the state. It also talks about an immediate loan waiver for Maharashtra’s farmers, a new law to ensure 80% reservation in jobs for Maharashtra locals, Re 1 health clinics in all talukas and a Rs 10 thali to provide affordable food to people.
“The alliance partners commit to uphold the secular values enshrined in the Constitution. On contentious issue of national importance as well as of state importance especially having repercussions/consequences on the secular fabric of the nation, the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress will take a joint view after holding consultations and arriving at a consensus,” reads the preamble of the four-page document signed by signed by Uddhav, Patil and Thorat.
The CMP specifically talks of revising the crop insurance scheme to ensure immediate compensation to farmers along with remunerative prices for farm produce. The CMP has also stated that construction of a sustainable water supply system for drought-hit areas will be undertaken. Farmers’ woes in the state intensified following unseasonal rain in October and early November that damaged standing crop on 93.89 lakh hectares of land, with 1.04 crore farmers suffering losses.
The coalition has also decided to form two committees, of which one will be set up to coordinate within the state cabinet, and the other to coordinate among the three allies.
The oath-taking ceremony
Uddhav’s swearing in on Thursday was a grand event. Earlier, the police had estimated that over 40,000 followers of the three parties – Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress – were expected to attend the swearing in ceremony, but the crowd at the humungous Shivaji Park ground in central Mumbai exceeded the estimate. The police at the end of the event said the crowd almost touched one lakh.
Several karyakartas had travelled from across the state to attend the momentous day. Dinesh Wagh, a 35-year-old Shiv Sainik, had come from Nashik along with his family. He held a framed picture of party patriarch Bal Thackeray in his hand and raised slogans hailing the party. “Since my father’s time, we have been with the party. We were elated when Aaditya Thackeray (Uddhav’s son) was elected as an MLA. And when it was announced that Saheb will be the next chief minister, I did not want to miss out on such a historical moment,” he told The Wire.
Since Wagh does not have any relatives in the city and hotels in Mumbai are unaffordable, he said that he would be spending the night on the footpath outside the park.
The grandeur of the event, especially at a time when the state is reeling under a severe agrarian crisis, appeared over the top. But party workers of the alliance felt this was not merely a swearing in ceremony but also a show of strength, to let the opposition know that the parties are capable of running a stable government for the next five years.
On stage, besides the important state leaders of the three parties, were several politicians from across the country. Senior leaders of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam M.K. Stalin and T.R. Baalu had travelled from Tamil Nadu, Senior Congress leader and chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Kamal Nath was also present. Ahmed Patel, Kabil Sibal and the family of industrialist Mukesh Ambani were also in attendance. Several Bollywood and Marathi cinema artists also showed face. Among BJP leaders, former chief minister and now the leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis and his close aide Chandrakant Patil too attended the ceremony.
Aaditya had specially flown to Delhi to invite Congress’s national leaders including Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In a letter expressing her inability to travel to Mumbai, Sonia wished Uddhav the very best in life and hoped that the new government would fulfil the hopes and expectations of people in the state. Singh wished Uddhav the best, and said his chief ministership was a “historic event”.
The stage had more male political leaders than female. Among the six others who took oath as the new government’s ministers were Shiv Sena’s Eknath Shinde and Shirish Desai, NCP’s Jayant Patil and Chhagan Bhujbal, and Congress’s Balasaheb Thorat and Nitin Raut.
While Bhujbal and Raut invoked social reformers and radical anti-caste leaders Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Jotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule, Shahu Maharaj and the Buddha, other leaders hailed Bal Thackeray and their respective party leaders while taking oath. Among them only two – Raut and Bhujbal – belong to Bahujan castes. No woman MLA was administered oath on the stage.