Why Uddhav Thackeray met Narendra Modi

Uddhav Thackeray called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his 7 Lok Kalyan Marg residence in New Delhi. It was the CM’s second visit outside the state, and his first to Delhi, since taking over as chief minister on November 28, 2019. Earlier, he had visited Ayodhya in September 2020. For his first in-person meeting with the prime minister since the ending of the three-decade alliance between the Shiv Sena and the BJP, when Thackeray joined with its former opponents, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and became chief minister, Thackeray brought with him a list of 12 demands. Accompanied by state finance minister Ajit Pawar and PWD minister Ashok Chavan, Thackeray discussed the 12 subjects with Modi for close to an hour. Interestingly, he had a separate half-hour one-on-one with the Prime Minister.

Over the past 18 months, relations between Modi and Thackeray have been frosty. The duo met just once in that time—a brief meeting when the Maharashtra CM received the prime minister at Pune airport on December 7, 2019, as Modi arrived to address a national level police conference. The June 8 meeting is thus significant.

Thackeray’s top three demands related to reservations for the Maratha community, Other Backward Classes (OBC), Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). On May 5, the Supreme Court had shot down the quota for the Marathas, saying that states did not have the right to classify a community as socially and economically backward. It said the Governor should write to the President requesting him to assign the task to a committee, and that the President, in turn, would have to appoint commission to decide on the state’s recommendation.

Thackeray also asked the Prime Minister to ask Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari to clear 12 recommendations for members of the legislative council. Film star Urmila Matondkar and BJP rebel Eknath Khadse are included in the list of these 12 people, which has been pending with the Governor for over a year.

Thackeray also requested Modi to hand over 120 acres of land at Kanjurmarg in Mumbai for the construction of three car shed for three metro lines. The land is disputed as both the state and Centre have staked claims on ownership. The metro project has been stuck for a year because of the dispute. The CM also wanted Marathi to be given classical language status and a modification in the norms of compensation in case of natural calamities. There was also the not so insignificant matter of Rs 24,000 crore in compensation payments for the Goods and Service Tax (GST) that the state is to receive from the Centre.

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The heat clearly is on the chief minister in Mumbai. Marathas constitute about 30 per cent of Maharashtra’s 120 million population. Maratha organisations have warned of their plans to launch an agitation from June 16 pressing for restoration of the 13 and 12 per cent reservations in education and jobs respectively. On June 4, a committee formed by the Thackeray government to study the court judgment recommended that a review petition be filed in the SC. Maratha leaders, though, are not satisfied. Sambhaji Raje, a Rajya Sabha MP and an influential Maratha politician, has warned that he will start mobilising the community if the state government does not take legal measures against the court’s verdict. “The Marathas are furious. So far, I have been able to convince them not to hit the streets, but may not be able to hold them back for long,” says Raje.

OBCs too are on the warpath after the SC, in early March, struck down a state government law that provides the community 27 per cent reservation in zila parishad and panchayat samiti seats. The court said quotas for SCs, STs and OBCs in local body seats should not cross 50 per cent. On May 28, the SC rejected the government’s review petition. In March, the court had directed the MVA government to submit data substantiating the need for 27 per cent quota for OBCs, who make up 40 per cent of the population. It was only on June 3 that the government appointed a nine-member commission to collect data on the OBC population. OBC leaders allege the government has been dragging its feet on the quota issue. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes too have reasons to be upset as the Thackeray government withdrew the provision for 33 per cent quota for them in state government job promotions on May 7. The decision was apparently taken to placate the Marathas, who are now the biggest beneficiaries in the promotions. To Thackeray’s relief, though, SC/ ST leaders, barring power minister Nitin Raut of the Congress, have so far not reacted strongly.

The private chat

Uddhav Thackeray claimed that he did not talk politics with Modi during their private interaction. “The political ties have been snapped, not the relation,” Thackeray told reporters after the meeting. “I didn’t talk to Nawaz Sharif,” he said defending the private talk. His statement, however, left many tongues wagging in the state. There has been a speculation that Thackeray requested Modi not to press hard for the investigation in the ‘Bombgate’ case, where several police officers have been arrested for their alleged involvement in murder of a businessman Mansukh Hiran as well as planting an explosive-laden vehicle close to industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s house. The Thackeray government has already requested the Bombay High Court to direct the National Investigation Agency, which is probing the case, not to investigate how now-dismissed police officer Sachin Vaze was reinstated in the force after 14 hours. It was Thackeray who had backed Vaze, a former Shiv Sena worker, in March, saying he should not be treated as though he were ‘Osama Bin Laden’.

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