Politics can wait. Sole focus of Maharashtra government must be on safely exiting the lockdown
Signs of disunity in the six-month-old Maha Vikas Aghadi governing Maharashtra could not have come at a more untimely hour. The state accounts for over a third of India’s Covid-19 cases and is particularly embattled because Mumbai, its administrative and financial nerve centre, is the worst hit. Worries about survival are a distraction the government can do without when the spreading disease and economic contagion merit its undivided attention. With three parties of roughly equal heft running the show it is inevitable that differences of opinion will crop up.
Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar haven’t been on the same page on easing lockdown restrictions. Rahul Gandhi hasn’t helped matters with his remarks that Congress was merely supporting the government and is not the key decision maker. The dissonance will be sweet music for the opposition BJP, smarting ever since unexpectedly losing the state. The optics of hospitals running out of beds, and bodies lined up outside morgues is intensifying the pressure on Thackeray. Not surprisingly, former CM Devendra Fadnavis has remarked that he is content to watch the alliance felled by its own contradictions (denial).
As Covid cases surpass 40,000 in the Mumbai-Thane belt, tough choices and trade-offs lie ahead. Even successive lockdowns couldn’t remedy the difficulty of social distancing in Mumbai, with 40% of its population living in slums. The megapolis has an average population density of 20,000 people per square km which goes up in slum (hovel) areas. The two cities are Shiv Sena’s bastions, which could explain Thackeray’s hesitation (pausing) on relaxing restrictions while Pawar presses for opening up. Even President’s Rule or political realignment (the action of changing or restoring something to a different or former position or state) that leads to a new government will have to weather weeks of political instability and leadership vacuum, that could undermine lockdown exit measures currently underway. Politics mustn’t play spoiler to lives and livelihoods.