Bureaucracy, a sore point between Uddhav and Sena MLAs | Mumbai news

Handling bureaucrats is not his cup of tea. Until he became the chief minister in November 2019, Uddhav Thackeray had not held any public office. This lack of experience gave the Nationalist Congress Party and Congress, who have heavyweight ministers and key portfolios, an upper hand in the governance.

The Shiv Sena chief is always under fire from party legislators for his failure to resolve the problems they face while dealing with the administration.

“We were not getting funds for work in our constituencies…government officers were not listening to us,” Sanjay Shirsat, one of the rebel MLAs wrote to Thackeray on June 22. The letter was made public by the Eknath Shinde faction on Thursday.

Several Sena functionaries HT spoke to also had similar complaints. Their grudge was that the administration was not responding to them in the manner it was obliging the NCP and Congress MLAs.

“The fact is the NCP and Congress have experienced and heavyweight ministers who know how to make the bureaucracy work. All key departments that we have to deal with — home [which governs police], finance, cooperation [which governs cooperation sector], and rural development [which supervises functioning of district councils in rural areas] are with the NCP while revenue, public works [which repairs and builds public infrastructure], and energy [which governs electricity distribution network] are with Congress. Most of our work is with these departments and those ministers do not cooperate with us. That is also because these parties were our opponents in our constituencies as we had won the assembly elections in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),” said a Sena legislator who is in the Thackeray camp.

“When our legislators wanted to take their grievances to the chief minister, either access to him was difficult or even if we aired the grievances, he did not assert his authority to redress them. Many of us were of the opinion that lack of experience in handling the state administration and no command over the bureaucracy are the problems,” he added.

Thackeray’s choice of officers and dependence on certain officers also became a talking point in the bureaucracy. To begin with, several IAS/IPS officers in key posts were not removed for quite some time after the government took over. Later, his insistence on giving extensions to chief secretary Ajoy Mehta and then appointing him as advisor in the chief minister’s office after his retirement, did not go down well with his allies.

On the other hand, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis still commands respect in the administration. “It is an open secret that a significant number of IAS and IPS officers are in touch with him. As such, it is not difficult for Fadnavis to corner the government on various issues or plan his political moves against the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi,” a senior officer said, requesting anonymity.

For instance, in the Antilia explosives case or the Mansukh Hiran murder case, Fadnavis shocked the government in the assembly when he showed that he had more information about the cases than Thackeray or then home minister Anil Deshmukh.

“There were several instances when Fadnavis had pointed out something or raised an issue and ministers would look at their secretaries for response as they were unaware of the matter,” an NCP legislator, who did not wish to be named, said.

More recently, Thackeray or his aides were not aware that one of his ministers was plotting and planning to hijack his party. Normally, the intelligence unit of the state police keeps a close watch on political activities.

First, the epidemic and later due to his health issues, Thackeray had to work from his home. It made deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar a parallel power center in the government.

A junior Congress minister said, “For all India service officers such as IAS or IPS, the Central government is important because their service-related matters are governed by it. With the feeling that Fadnavis had a close watch on what was happening in the government, these officers were often unwilling to do what we expected them to do – probe cases of irregularities in the BJP-led regime or initiate some action against BJP functionaries.”

Now with the MVA government facing uncertainty, the administration is watching with keen interest. The officers are expecting a massive reshuffle if Fadnavis returns as chief minister. “Some officers who were seen following what the MVA leadership wanted them to do are anxious that they would have to face the music,” a senior Mantralaya official said.

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