The Shiv Sena on Tuesday termed the Congress an “old, creaking cot”, reacting to senior Congress leaders’ unhappiness over “not being involved in decision-making” in the Uddhav Thackeray-led government.
The Congress has lately been vocal with its complaints in the three-party coalition. In a recent interview to The Indian Express, senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan, who helms the public works department in the state’s Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP government, spoke of a growing feeling among senior ministers from his party that their issues were not being addressed or heard. Sounding off the Shiv Sena and the NCP, the former chief minister said that the Congress party’s aim to keep the BJP at bay should not be treated as the party’s weakness, while also urging CM Thackeray to rein in a section of the bureaucracy.
Some Congress leaders are learnt to be miffed over not getting their chosen bureaucrats in their ministries. Also at issue are 12 state legislative council seats that are to be filled through the Governor’s quota; the Congress wants an equal share in these seats.
An editorial on Tuesday in Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna said the issue of equally distributing MLC seats among the three parties was “beyond discussion” as, in the state assembly, the Congress has 44 seats, Shiva Sena has 64, including independents; and the NCP has 54 seats. The MLC seats’ distribution should happen in that proportion,” the editorial said.
“The Congress is an old cot, which keeps making noises sometimes… but [the cot] has a historic legacy. Many people use the cot, that is why it makes noises. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray should be prepared to tolerate such noises in the coalition government,” said the editorial, which made a reference to Ashok Chavan’s statements, adding that since it is a government of three parties, there will be noises.
It also said that Thackeray was willing to listen to grievances but was “not power-hungry” and not open to “acceding to every demand to remain in power”.
The Congress responded to the Saamna jibe, saying it was “firmly” in the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government, but reiterated that it has unresolved grievances that it wants to discuss with the CM.
Maharashtra Congress president and Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat said, “We have certain issues related to public interest that we want to raise with the CM. We have sought a one-on-one meeting with him and are certain that he would be satisfied after meeting us.”
Dismissing the editorial, Thorat said that it was written on the basis of “incomplete information”. He said that since Saamna is Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece, they are expected to write such editorials “on the basis of accurate information”. Taking a further dig, Thorat said the newspaper should write another editorial “after our meeting with the CM”.
This is the second time in as many weeks that a Saamna editorial has lashed out against perceived political threats to the Shiv Sena and the government.
Party sources said Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut’s criticism last week of actor Sonu Sood over his “Ghar Bhejo” project for migrant workers was prompted by fears that the BJP was backing Sood’s efforts, and might deploy him in the 2022 BMC polls.
A leader of the Sena said, on the condition of anonymity, that the actor was “helping migrants with support from a person who is close to the BJP and RSS”. Pointing to the social media praise for the actor, the leader said it was aimed “to show as if the Maharashtra government has failed in tackling the issue”.
“We decided to expose the BJP hand in it,” said the Sena leader, further claiming, “The BJP will not only use Sonu Sood in Bihar and other state elections but also in the Mumbai civic body polls (due in early 2022) to gather support of North Indian-origin voters.”
The BMC polls are particularly important for the Sena which has been the ruling party in the civic body for more than two decades with the BJP as its ally.
In the 2017 BMC polls, the Shiv Sena and BJP contested separately and won 84 and 82 seats, respectively, in the 227-member corporation. The Congress won 31 seats, the NCP got nine, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) got seven; and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen won two seats. Support of 114 members is required to come to power, and Shiv Sena’s candidate was elected mayor after the BJP decided to extend outside support.
A Shiv Sena leader said that even though Sood met CM Thackeray after Sanjay Raut’s outburst against him, “it appeared that Sood was not keen to meet the CM”. The leader claimed, “The BJP was trying to influence and convince him not to meet anybody from Sena.”
The actor, however, has repeatedly said he has no political ambitions.