The BJP playing the transparency card has not only irked ally Shiv Sena, but has also forced opposition Congress-NCP on the backfoot. The party has set the pitch for an anti-corruption campaign not only in the BMC but across ten municipal corporations, 25 zilla parishads and 283 panchayat samitis. Sources in the BJP said Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had “flashed a smart card to effectively counter rivals both in-house and opposition using the anti-corruption bait”.
A senior NCP poll strategist said, “In the 2014 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, we paid a heavy price due to our image getting a beating on the corruption issue. The tainted ministers in the Congress-NCP government were used in the campaign against us and worked to our disadvantage.” He said the alleged multi-crore irrigation scam against former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and state NCP chief Sunil Tatkare worked to the disadvantage of the party.
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It appears the ruling BJP plans to keep the anti-corruption plank alive in the successive polls. The investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau into the irrigation scam is yet to conclude against the NCP leaders. Though Congress leaders acknowledge they are better placed compared to the NCP, fears over the Adarsh Cooperative Housing scam have forced them to side track the anti-corruption plank.
A senior general secretary of the MPCC said, “Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan can alone speak on the issue of transparency or corruption. If we deploy Ashok Chavan to take on the BJP or the Sena, it would be detrimental to us. They have raked up the Adarsh issue against us.” Notwithstanding the facts and status of each case against individual leaders in the Congress-NCP, poll managers fear public perception is difficult to change. And they cannot take situations for granted. Instead, they are planning to come out with new details related to demonetisation to counter the transparency card against the ruling BJP. For that, a team of central Congress leaders are working with the MPCC.
The Congress and the NCP have drawn up a strategy to keep top leaders away from joining the corruption debate. Instead, it has pitted its second rung leaders to reply to the BJP on sensitive issues. Several BJP leaders spoken to explained that their emphasis on transparency and accountability in civic administration or districts was not targeted at any individual or party. At a public debate, Fadnavis, replying to a question, had explained, “It (combating corruption) is on merit of the case, which is perceived by the authorities concerned, without our interference. It is neither personal nor politically driven.”
However, the Shiv Sena has not been able to come to terms with the BJP’s pre-condition for a tie-up, and Sena leaders have been hitting hard at the BJP with taunts. Sena president Uddhav Thackeray said, “The BJP should elicit views on what farmers and soldiers along the borders have to say on transparency.” The barb was obviously aimed at the hardships caused to farmers due to demonetisation and the controversy over poor quality food as exposed by a BSF jawan. Sena MP Sanjay Raut said, “We don’t care for transparency. We believe in aar-paar (direct) battle in elections.”