On the completion of the first year of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government in the state, Maharashtra Congress chief and state’s Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat speaks to The Indian Express on the challenges and achievements of the past year and the way ahead.
The first year in power has been a roller-coaster ride for the alliance. There have been hurdles galore. Congress ministers have been upset over fund distribution and being treated like a third wheel.
Where is the question of being the third wheel? We are three parties who have come together to form the government. Each one has equal rights. We take decisions on the basis of discussion and consensus. Are there not issues even in a single party government? But the important thing is that the issues we face are getting resolved. On the department funding, I’ve to say that the pandemic has put a severe strain on our budgetary resources, forcing us to prioritise expenditure works. But there is nothing unusual in a minister pushing for release of more funds to run the department, show performance.
But many believe that the Congress has been the least visible of the allies…
The CM’s post and Deputy CM’s post naturally draw more media attention. Similarly Pawar saheb (Sharad Pawar) is always in the media’s glare. But our ministers have been as visible as ministers from the other two parties. Also through our agitations on the Centre’s farm Bills and other issues, Congress has been consistently visible on ground.
One year gone, what are the achievements from the Congress point of view?
The biggest achievement by the coming together of the three parties was keeping the BJP at bay. I’m of the firm belief that the BJP’s ideology and their style of functioning are detrimental to the nation’s interest in the longer term. The BJP has found an easy way to do politics — creating a divide in the society, polarising the atmosphere for votes, coming to power and then doing those very things again. This is easy. But sustainable progress cannot be achieved this way. You must take everyone along. This is what the Congress’s ideology advocates. We believe in pushing for equal rights for all citizens.
What is the way ahead for the Congress in Maharashtra?
We’ve ideologically inclined voters across the state. What we must do better is to reach out to them effectively. We must also be more proactive in reaching out to new young voters and women. We’ll soon be launching a statewide membership drive at the village level. Party worker workshops are also being planned.
Elections for the Mumbai civic body, nine other municipal corporations in 2022 are being seen as a mini assembly poll. Congress seems divided on going into the polls as an alliance with Shiv Sena in Mumbai. Your response?
Each party has the right to expand. But the three of us also have the responsibility to ensure that the BJP does not gain ground in the state. During elections we will have to take steps carefully and make sure that we do not take extreme stances against each other. We’ll have to collectively resolve issues that crop up. We’ll sit together for an appropriate decision on how to contest the polls.
How long will the government last? What are the challenges?
Frankly I see no problem in the continuation of the government for the full five years. Uddhav Thackeray believes in taking everyone along. He supports good work. We do not see a problem there. There will be challenges. We’ll have to ensure an effective dialogue process between allies. We will have to tread cautiously during elections. The common man’s interest should be at the centre of our decision-making.
Coordination issues have cropped up within the Congress camp as well. Ashok Chavan feels that Nitin Raut’s announcement regarding offering subsidy in power bills before a cabinet decision was a mistake. Your say?
He (Ashok Chavan) was perhaps unaware, but the proposal (regarding power bill subsidy) was discussed in the cabinet. Everyone shared the sentiment that households in financial strain owing to the lockdown must be helped. We (the cabinet) even discussed the expenditure for the proposal. It was only after learning that the discussions were positive that the minister made a public announcement.
But later we’re hit by losses due to natural calamities including a cyclonic storm, floods and unseasonal rains. There was widespread crop damage in the floods and rains, which prompted the state to offer a Rs 10k crore package to the affected farmers. We have sought a flood assistance package from the Centre, but it hasn’t cared to even send its team for assessment of damages. The Centre is yet to pay GST compensation dues. The Centre also didn’t consider our request for continuation of supplies of coronavirus testing kits, PPE gear, masks etc. This has burdened the state’s exchequer by another Rs 300 crore monthly. The sudden rise in expenditure and the limited resources put forth challenges in deciding on the matter. But the government hasn’t entirely given up on the proposal as yet.
Shiv Sena’s Shiv Bhojan scheme has been implemented, but Congress’s demand for a NYAY-like scheme is still pending….
It is incorrect to label any scheme being implemented by the government as belonging to a single party. The three parties have a collective role in decision making and implementation. On the need for a NYAY scheme championed by Rahul Gandhi, even top economists have backed the idea of giving cash-in-hand to the poorest of families. But as discussed earlier, the financial crunch has come in the way. But the Congress will keep pursuing it. Ideally, the Centre should’ve implemented it at the country level.
How do you react to the recent Enforcement Directorate (ED) raids on premises linked to Shiv Sena MLA Pratap Sarnaik?
The ED was not born in 2014. Neither was the Income Tax or the CBI. Then how come they have become a household name only now. These agencies are systems to curb wrongdoing in the governance process, but unfortunately they are currently being used by the BJP to target political opponents. This is against democratic principles.
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