Maharasthra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan may have survived the challenge to his leadership for the time being, but there are many irritants in his ties with ally NCP in the poll-bound state, which he will have to address fast to avert a possible split.
The NCP, which has been breathing down his neck, Monday virtually put him on notice saying its demands have to be met. Chavan and NCP differ on at least three issues — abolition of the local body tax (LBT), reservation for the Maratha community and regularisation of illegal structures.
Senior NCP leader Praful Patel told The Indian Express that his party was not “going to sit idle”. “We have certain views and it is in the larger interest of the people, the government and the coalition. Whatever we are saying, it has to be implemented. We want it to be done,” he said.
While Patel denied that the NCP had asked the Congress to replace its chief minister, sources in the Congress said Chavan’s continuance would depend on how fast he addresses and resolves these issues with the coalition partner. With Assembly elections just months away, the Congress wants to avoid a confrontation with the NCP at any cost. Sources said Congress president Sonia Gandhi had given the same message to Chavan.
That the Congress considers NCP indispensable became clear when party leaders A K Antony and Ahmed Patel asked NCP chief Sharad Pawar to lead the joint campaign of the parties. Patel said the NCP was not concerned about individuals but issues, an indication that it may be willing to let Chavan continue. “We are only concerned about certain policy decisions which the government will have to take. We want solutions and decisive action. We cannot go to the people with these issues pending,” said Patel. “Without diluting the reservation quota for OBC and others that already exist, reservation can be given to the Maratha community.”
Chavan has been dithering on the NCP demand for abolition of LBT, which the party feels had contributed to the Lok Sabha election debacle in the state. The traders have been up in arms demanding the abolition of LBT, which was brought in to replace octroi. NCP has been upset with Chavan because of his slow pace of decision making. What is unsaid, of course, is Chavan’s lack of support to NCP ministers when the irrigation scam blew up.
Sources in the Congress also argued that the NCP arm-twisting had to be seen in the context of seat-sharing for the Assembly elections.
Birla said her campaign this time is “very similar” to the last time.