Bal Thackeray’s departure should have made things easier for Prithviraj Chavan. But he is grappling with the political fallout of his decisions concerning Thackeray’s funeral. Giving Thackeray state honour and allowing the funeral at Shivaji Park are two huge negatives in his score as the Congress’s helmsman in government.
It is handy ammo to another Thakre in Chavan’s own party – state chief Manikrao Thakre – who is believed to have puppeteered an MLAs’ revolt against him some time ago. Many feel Chavan still hasn’t got a grip on either the state or the party. He already has several crosses against him, notably that, after two years as chief minister, he is still the new boy in town, with a poor political grasp of the state and continues to dither on every file.
Ironically, the very act that earned him his peers’ scorn has endeared him to his white-collared men. The state administration is relieved that he permitted the funeral on Shivaji Park. It was concerned about handling the big numbers expected. After working out the logistics of alternative scenarios, it was felt that though Sena leader Sanjay Raut had cheekily declared the site of the funeral before receiving any official approval, it would be advisable to go with him as a crematorium affair would decidedly lead to a law and order problem. Only, such a move was politically contra-indicated.
Even as everyone was nervously chewing on their fingernails, Chavan conceded the point and municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte signed the order for the cremation to be held on Shivaji Park. All along, Chavan was well aware of the political repercussions to follow and said as much in the discussions. But he was as nervous as the rest of them to take any risk.
Thackeray’s ill health days prior to his death had kept the authorities on the edge. Along with RR Patil, he was monitoring the situation blow by blow in his anxiety to contain any possible spillover of popular emotions on the street.
Chavan was in the loop for special measures taken to prevent public reaction from snowballing such as a temporary cyber patrolling cell -- which deleted a few objectionable websites and posts, and here, we do not mean the type young Shaheen Dhada put up on Facebook; erecting special metal barricading with BMC’s financial backing; and putting up LED screens at strategic points to discourage the crowd from surging forward. As it turned out, the crowds stretched far beyond Shivaji Park, which could accommodate only 1.5 lakh people. These measures paid off handsomely and things went off without a hitch.
For all his efforts however, Chavan received only flak. On the other hand, home minister RR Patil is learnt to have got a rare congratulatory call from his boss, Sharad Pawar. Though officials are happy Chavan prioritised public order over politics, it is arguable that he has betrayed a lack of confidence in his own leadership skills.
The decision to give Thackeray state honour is more questionable. While Chavan probably did it to nip any potential trouble in the bud, he was actually crawling when he wasn’t required even to bend. Intriguingly, he is not the only opponent to be smitten by Thackeray. Some Congress and NCP activists have put up posters across the city mourning the late Sena supremo. One wonders how these closet admirers have actually come out upfront to hail the man their parties loved to hate.
None of Chavan’s perceived trespasses, however, is likely to trigger a change of guard simply because nobody else is available.