In a bid to expose the differences within the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra over the contentious farm bills passed by the Parliament, the BJP on Monday launched an all-out offensive against its former ally Shiv Sena, accusing it of being indecisive and confused on matters pertaining to farmers’ welfare.
Sensing an opportunity to highlight the inherent contradictions between the MVA partners, senior BJP leaders held multiple press conferences slamming both Sena and NCP for their flip-flops in the Parliament over the issue, directing much of their criticism at the Uddhav Thackeray-led party.
In Nagpur, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Devendra Fadnavis, accused Sena of failing to take a “concrete stance” on farmer issues. “The Shiv Sena is a confused party. It backed the reforms in the Lok Sabha and then opposed them in the Rajya Sabha,” he told mediapersons.
“But this is nothing new (for Sena). Even when it was a part of the coalition government with us, it clung on to power but also wanted to be seen as being in the Opposition mode,” he added.
In Mumbai, former BJP minister Ashish Shelar recalled the Citizenship (Amendment) Act debate in the Parliament, when too Sena had varied stances in the two Houses.
On Sunday, during the debate on the farm bills in Rajya Sabha, the three allies adopted different stances. While Congress was consistent in its opposition to the passage of these bills, Sena staged a walk out in the Rajya Sabha after supporting the bills in the Lok Sabha.
NCP’s Supriya Sule had opposed the bills in Lok Sabha, but the Sharad Pawar-led party walked out during the voice vote in the Rajya Sabha, hurting Congress’ efforts to cobble together numbers to defeat the legislation.
Congress’ unease over the ally’s stance was evident, with former chief minister Ashok Chavan publicly advocating for a “unified stance even at the Centre”. Chavan, who heads the public works portfolio in the government, said: “We would have liked more cohesion, but Sena and NCP have their own reasons for their stance.”
Maharashtra NCP president and Water Resources Minister Jayant Patil, however, papered over the differences. “The NCP stands firmly behind the farmers. There is no question of aiding the BJP in any way.”
To allay speculations that their parties had struck an “understanding” with BJP for the passage of the bills, senior NCP and Sena leaders also argued that Maharashtra was unlikely to be impacted much by the new measures.
The opposition by farmer groups in Punjab and Haryana is primarily to the clause that allows sale and purchase of crops to take place outside state-regulated Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis.
In Maharashtra, the government has already enacted legislations delinking the sale of vegetables and fruits only to APMCs, permitting farmers to sell produce directly to the market.
A day before the debate in Rajya Sabha, Uddhav and Sharad Pawar had met at the former’s residence where the strategy to be employed is believed to have been finalised. Congress ministers were not a part of this meeting.
Incidentally, Pawar, a former Union agriculture minister, remained absent for the debate in Rajya Sabha. Sena leaders also pointed out that Raju Shetti’s Shetkari Sanghathana was backing the legislation.
Facing stiff resistance from farmers in Haryana and Punjab, the BJP is currently on a media blitzkrieg extolling the virtues of the legislations, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself promoting them as “pro-farmer” reforms.
Fadnavis, meanwhile, also accused the Congress of double standards, contending that former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath was a part of the task force that had recommended these measures.
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