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Monday Musings: Maharashtra needs strong opposition leader


More than two weeks after the state government got a new partner in rebel Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) faction, Maharashtra is also likely to get a new leader of opposition in the monsoon session of the state assembly that will begin today (Monday).

(From left) State Congress leaders Ashok Chavan, Nana Patole and Balasaheb Thorat. With the second highest number of MLAs in the house, the party can now claim the post of Leader of Opposition (HT PHOTO)
(From left) State Congress leaders Ashok Chavan, Nana Patole and Balasaheb Thorat. With the second highest number of MLAs in the house, the party can now claim the post of Leader of Opposition (HT PHOTO)

On June 30, when Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis dispensation completed one year in office, it was expected the opposition in Maharashtra will conduct an appraisal of the government’s functioning. But on the same day, the then leader of opposition (LoP) Ajit Pawar stepped down from the position, and two days later, was sworn in as a minister in the same government he was supposed to take on. It was sort of déjà vu in 2019 when Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil as an opposition leader chose to be on the side of power and joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

For the past seven years between 2014 and 2023 – barring those years of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government – Maharashtra’s political canvas has witnessed changes that surprised and shocked people. During Devendra Fadnavis government, Vikhe Patil as the then Congress member and the leader of the opposition was perceived as ‘soft’. The role of opposition then was fulfilled by Shiv Sena, which shared power with Fadnavis and yet bickered on many issues.

After the 2019 assembly polls when mandate was for BJP-Shiv Sena, NCP chief Sharad Pawar stitched an unlikely alliance of Sena-NCP-Congress and formed the MVA government. It was then Maharashtra got a strong opposition leader in Fadnavis.

As LoP, Fadnavis latched up on every possible opportunity to target the government. His performance while leading the opposition, was as effective as being the helm of the government. Be it the handling of Covid by MVA, Sachin Vaze-Mansukh Hiren case, or pen drive bomb to expose the alleged conspiracy to fix BJP leader Girish Mahajan, Fadnavis targeted government scathingly and carried much weight that those in power were apprehensive about. For many, Fadnavis reminded Narayan Rane, and Chhagan Bhujbal, who led opposition from the front to effectively criticise governments of those days.

When a rebel camp in Shiv Sena joined hands with BJP to form a new government under Shinde-Fadnavis, many had high expectations from Ajit, who was seen as an effective leader with a strong grip on administration. However, in a tenure of almost a year, Pawar as opposition leader turned out to be ineffective, often seen giving a free pass to the government on critical issues. In fact, during the winter session of the state assembly last year, many within the MVA alliance spoke in private about the perceived softness of Pawar. Months later when state politics witnessed fresh tremors, a leader from Congress said in private that Pawar’s pliancy was mostly due to his eyes on the chair in power, which became reality on June 2.

After Pawar’s resignation from the post, the seat is vacant and there is lobbying among opposition parties – and within each party too – for the post. In the 288-member state assembly, Congress currently has 45 legislators after a win in Kasba Peth by-polls in Pune while NCP’s numbers after a revolt in the party have come down from the earlier 53 MLAs, as Ajit camp is claiming the support of 40 legislators.

Shiv Sena, which had a strength of 56 MLAs before the rebellion by Eknath Shinde last year, is now reduced to 16 MLAs in the state assembly. Considering the strength, Congress is most likely to officially stake its claim on the post.

Interestingly, Congress is the only party which has not seen any rebellion so far and has stuck to an anti-BJP stance. If the post of opposition leader comes to Congress or any other party in opposition, there are expectations that the person to be nominated for the post should be effective enough to raise issues of public interest that the government of the day may not want to talk about.

After witnessing what has transpired in state politics since 2019, many common citizens in Maharashtra are already dejected. The only way their interest in democratic processes can be retained is when the government will work for the people. To make that happen, the least citizens expect from a new opposition leader is to take on the government to expose its failures whenever necessary.

After all, the role of the Opposition is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable to the public. This also helps to fix the mistakes of the ruling party. The Opposition is equally responsible for upholding the best interests of the people of the country.


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