Uddhav Thackeray wore blazing saffron, invoked Shivaji and took the oath of office as Maharashtra chief minister at Shivaji Park where his father had virtually created the Shiv Sena from scratch.
Thackeray’s oath was watched over by a stellar cast of heavyweights. Alliance partners included NCP’s Sharad Pawar, who – and it cannot be emphasised enough – now holds the “remote control” of power in Mumbai, his daughter Supriya Sule and frenemy nephew Ajit Pawar, who came back for a family reunion after a brief dalliance with the BJP.
Estranged cousin Raj Thackeray also got a place in yet another Bollywood-style family reunion. On stage, the Congress contingent of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath, Ahmed Patel and Kapil Sibal were present.
Making their absence felt despite the alliance were Sonia Gandhi, interim Congress president, and her son Rahul Gandhi, former Congress president.
Thackeray had made a special outreach to Sonia Gandhi, sending son Aaditya Thackeray on Wednesday with a personal invite. Uncertainty prevailed all day on whether the Gandhis would go. Finally, they sent congratulatory letters. Senior Sena leaders told me that Thackeray, who had also made a personal point of thanking Sonia Gandhi publicly, wanted her to be present as a show of support for his newbie government and to establish lines of communication with this new and unlikely ally in office.
Senior Congress leaders confirmed that Pawar had also advised Gandhi to attend the ceremony and send the message that the alliance was stable. Apparently, Gandhi was torn as son Rahul, who was never enthusiastic about the alliance, had a sort of veto on his mother attending the event.
This, in a nutshell, is the fundamental problem that will dog this complicated alliance, with the BJP, bruised by its abrupt ejection from power in India’s richest state, ready to swoop in and end the fledgling government.
This could be a repeat of the Karnataka story, with the Congress and its unlikely ally forced out of office.
The Congress appears to have learnt no lessons from Karnataka. Even as the Devendra Fadnavis government was sworn in for a brief 80 hours last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had no qualms about throwing his weight behind it. Modi tweeted his support within minutes of the early morning swearing-in last Saturday.
The Gandhis’ squeamish behaviour of trying to keep an arm’s length from the Sena-led alliance government makes no sense. A senior NCP leader said, “The Congress has lucked out by being in government. Either they take full ownership or it will destabilise the government from the get go. This sort of absentee ownership makes no sense.”