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Express Townhall: To keep BJP away from power, set the narrative first and work together with opposition parties, says MVA minister Satej Patil

At Express Townhall, Congress leader Satej Patil talks of the ‘Kolhapur formula’, the nitty-gritties of running a coalition government in Maharashtra, and the issues of fake narratives and vindictive politics.

MVA minister Satej Patil said that parties have to think two steps ahead of the BJP. (Express photo/ File)

Congress leader and Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) minister Satej Patil played a key role in the victory of the ruling MVA alliance in the recent by-elections in Kolhapur. In this ‘Townhall’, moderated by Manoj More, Patil spoke about the ‘Kolhapur formula’, how it can be used elsewhere in the country to defeat the BJP, and the day-to-day complexity of running a coalition government in Maharashtra.

Manoj More: You have said that the ‘Kolhapur formula’ which allowed the ruling MVA coalition to defeat BJP in the recent by-elections should be extended to the entire country. What do you mean by that?

Satej Patil: Everybody’s attention was towards this by-election, from Bihar to Maharashtra. So, we are glad that MVA could succeed in retaining this seat. The BJP came in with a lot of force to get this seat. They wanted to show the whole country that the mandate is not with the MVA government. But Kolhapur did the right thing by defeating the BJP.

We have to think two steps ahead of the BJP and since 2014, we have seen that they (BJP) are good at setting the narrative. We set the narrative of this election first. We told the voters that this election has nothing to do with national issues. It is all about issues affecting people of Kolhapur.

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The second thing was coordination with opposition parties. When three parties come together, there are a lot of issues which need to be sorted out at the ground level. We tackled them effectively. In Kolhapur, Congress has a hold of its own because we have been the ruling party in the municipal corporation. So, this was already an advantage for us. Besides, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Shiv Sena have their own pockets of influence.

So, we set a narrative first, and then ensured the coordination of opposition parties. Election management was done properly. Lastly, we worked at negating BJP’s polarisation bid. I think with proper coordination we could achieve the desired success.

Manoj More: You spoke about effective coordination, which brought you the winning result. But unfortunately, in the last two-and-a-half years wherever elections have been held, it has been Shiv Sena versus NCP versus Congress. Do you think effective coordination should be implemented in Mumbai civic body polls as well as elsewhere in the state?

Satej Patil: No, I think Mumbai is a slightly different case. We can have like-minded parties working together wherever it is possible. Congress has its own pockets of influence in Mumbai and therefore, I think we can have an amicable solution there. Local algorithm is important. Mumbai is a different arithmetic because the voter base is different there. There is a huge floating voter base in Mumbai which is not connected with the ground reality, so I think the Congress, Shiva Sena, and NCP can come together on certain agendas.

We were in alliance with NCP in the state since 1999 but we never fought municipal elections together in Kolhapur. We always came together after the election. So, I think we need to arrive at an understanding between local leaders of the three parties.

Ajay Jadhav: Considering the number of municipal corporations that are going to go for elections soon, what should be the strategy of the Congress?

Satej Patil: Local issues are very important and now, I have been saying this for a long time, politics is not the same any more. You cannot afford to win elections by remaining active only during elections. Now, you have to be there 24/7. People have to see you and they want to meet you. What we have done is to remain available every 3-4 days of a week. That is why I now spend at least three days in Kolhapur. So, the connect with people is very important here. If you see the numbers, how many people are actually able to meet a politician? Hardly 10 per cent of the population tries to come and meet the politician. Not even that, probably. That is why your presence during functions and social gatherings becomes important.

If the Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena start preparing from now itself, we will surely achieve success in the municipal elections. I am 100 per cent sure. To keep the BJP away from power, the narrative has to be set now. The plan has to be done now and everything has to flow as per plan.

Ajay Jadhav: Raj Thackeray is opposing the use of loudspeakers on mosques by playing Hanuman Chalisa on loudspeakers. What are your views on that?

Satej Patil: All the three alliance partners have already had a discussion on this. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to share it on this open forum, but certainly we will handle it politically. As part of the government, it is our responsibility to keep this state safe and peaceful. So, we will surely look ahead to ensure any unwanted incidents do not take place.

Also, Maharashtra has always been a peaceful state and this image should remain intact in the larger interest of the country. Why is there industrial growth in Maharashtra? Because it’s always been a peace-loving state where law and order has been very, very appropriate for all these years. Now for political mileage, these unwanted things are being raised. If you try to portray this image of the state in the country and the world, what are you going to achieve? Are you going to achieve employment in this way? Are you going to attract investment in this state if such things happen?

Amitabh Sinha: There is this perception that now Congress has become so comfortable playing second fiddle to NCP in Maharashtra, it has stopped even thinking about emerging as the number one party in the state. What is the future of the Congress?

Satej Patil: No, I don’t think we are playing second fiddle to NCP. Every party has its own space. Congress has its own voter base, its own leadership in every district. Congress is probably the only party where you will find at least one worker in every village in every part of this state.

I absolutely agree with the point that the Congress has to be strengthened further, which we are working towards. We are slowly increasing our space, and if you see the recent local body elections, we had a good tally of seats. As I said, every party occupies some space, but the Congress still has a very large voter base. We don’t feel that we are playing second fiddle to any party. We have our own agenda.

For the coalition, we have a common minimum programme which was decided when this MVA government was formed and we are working towards implementing it.

We have a digital membership programme going on for the Congress in Maharashtra. Wherever it is possible, we are going to fight the elections on our own or in alliance with like­-minded parties.

Amitabh Sinha: The Congress has never seen eye to eye with Shiv Sena on any issue. Now you are in the government together. How difficult is it to work with Shiv Sena?

Satej Patil: As I said, a common minimum programme has been fixed and everyone has to stick to that common minimum programme. Ultimately, whenever a party or a coalition forms a government, what is the agenda? The agenda is the welfare of the state, the welfare of its people. The government should be able to do things which improve the quality of lives of the people. If all coalition partners work together on this agenda, then there is no conflict.

So, Shiv Sena may have ideological differences with the Congress on many issues, but we are together in implementing the common minimum programme, and in our efforts to take the state forward. The other issues do not come up in the day-to-day governance of the state. We are able to see the larger interest of the state, instead of looking at the ideologies of individual parties.

Anuradha Mascarenhas: BJP tried to gain votes from the Maratha community by criticising the MVA government over quashing of the reservation. How did you address this?

Satej Patil: On Maratha reservation, I think BJP doesn’t have any scope to say anything. Because when BJP was in power, it made no serious effort to get reservation for the community. It was only after MVA came to power that the Maratha community was on the verge of getting reservation but the matter remained pending in the apex court. We are confident of getting reservation for the Maratha community.

Anuradha Mascarenhas: Kolhapur has faced several challenges – floods, high dengue cases. What were the efforts to address these concerns and what is the way forward in terms of prevention?

Satej Patil: When this scenario emerged in 2019, the government was not well prepared to tackle the rains. In 2021, we experienced the same type of floods, probably a little more than 2019, but this time, we were prepared for it and there was much less loss.

We were able to relocate people from flooded areas. We had a proper plan. Kolhapur, in fact, was the first district in the country to have an effective public address system to warn people about the flooding. If you see the flood situation in 2021, we had more than 537 mm of rain in 24 hours in certain areas. But we were still able to manage it. We had more than 100 boats to rescue people.

Anuradha Mascarenhas: So, what exactly are you doing to address these issues?

Satej Patil: There was a committee which was appointed and a few observations were made, including a suggestion to have proper coordination with Karnataka government on the release of water from some of the dams in that state.

Sushant Kulkarni: If we look at various actions by central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and some actions by the Maharashtra police, there seems to be a clear tussle between the Centre and the state and their respective agencies. Should the state or central agencies be used for settling political scores?

Satej Patil: I think in the larger interest of the country, this should not have happened. In a democratic country like ours, if misuse of central agencies happens, it will be very difficult for people to work or do anything.

During the Kolhapur bypoll, BJP state president Chandrakant Patil said if Rs 1,000 is found in your account, the ED will come to your house. So, it’s like ED has become like local police now. This misuse should be stopped in the larger interest of the country.

Sushant Kulkarni: What do you make of this bulldozer policy that you see in Uttar Pradesh and now in Madhya Pradesh?

Satej Patil: I think this is a wrong policy. We should adhere to our laws, our Constitution.

Manoj More: NCP is now saying it made a mistake by asking Anil Deshmukh to resign as home minister. What do you think?

Satej Patil: Congress and NCP are very sensitive parties and we think that if there is a cloud of allegation, the minister should go. But we didn’t realise that it was part of BJP’s fake narrative and vindictive politics. Parambir Singh, who was the Mumbai police commissioner, first made the allegations of Rs 100 crore bribe against Anil Deshmukh. He later changed his statement saying that he had only heard of this. All this was fabricated. The case against Deshmukh has finally become weak but the damage which BJP wanted to do has been done through false narrative.

They carried out this kind of narrative in the Sushant Singh Rajput case as well. Parading falsehoods, raking up fake cases and defaming rival leaders, all this is not in the interest of the country. This is being done to put pressure on these two parties so that they get out of the government and support the BJP.

Manoj More: Do you think the Sena or NCP will dump the Congress ?

Satej Patil: Neither Sena nor NCP will dump the Congress. And Congress will never dump anybody. For the past two-and-a-half years, we have been working smoothly on the basis of the common minimum programme and will continue to do so.

Manoj More: In the last two-and-a-half years of the MVA govt, Rahul Gandhi has refused to share even a cup of tea with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. Why is Rahul Gandhi fighting shy of meeting the CM?

Satej Patil: In the last two years or so, we have been all bogged down by Covid. There was restriction on our movement. Now that curbs have been eased, Rahul Gandhi is expected to visit Mumbai. But let me tell you that the chief minister and Rahul are in touch and so is our president Sonia Gandhi.

Manoj More: Do you feel that a meeting between the chief minister and Rahul Gandhi would strengthen the bond between the two parties?

Satej Patil: I wouldn’t like to comment on it. Our state and Mumbai unit presidents are looking into this. Rahul’s visit to Mumbai will certainly strengthen our bond with the Shiv Sena.

Manoj More: Why is Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyati sitting on the proposal of nominating 12 members to the state legislative council ?

Satej Patil: This question should be directed to the governor himself. Even the Bombay High Court has taken a serious view of the delay in approving the names. The governor is setting a wrong precedent. Under the BJP regime, this is happening across the country. They are trying to kill democracy by not allowing an elected government to function. When the government is giving so much respect and urging the honourable governor to act, he continues to sit on the proposal.

Alifiya Khan: Recently, an amendment was made to the Maharashtra Public Universities Act and the powers of the governor have been considerably reduced. Do you think that it is healthy for the higher education minister to become the pro chancellor in universities and have a say in the day-to-day affairs of universities?

Satej Patil: There is a debate on this. Isn’t it unhealthy for the governor to behave the way he is behaving? We have never experienced this since Independence. Shiv Sena and BJP were in the government from 1995 to 1999. There was not even one incidence of the governor stopping any bill at that time. The governor has to act on the advice of the council of ministers. But this is not happening. Every bill which is passed by the House and needs the governor’s final assent is returned by him. We cannot stop functioning. We are answerable to the people. We have to find a way out and we are doing just that.

Chandan Haygunde: Leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis submitted a pen drive to the state Home Minister Dilip Walse-Patil during the assembly session in March and demanded a National Investigation Agency (NIA) or CBI probe into a case registered in Pune in September 2020. This was an admission racket case registered at Kothrud police station. It is claimed that a probe into this case exposed a nationwide gang involved in terror funding, narcotics trade and links of a gang member with Salim Merchant, a Dawood Ibrahim aide. Fadnavis has alleged that instead of taking the investigation forward, Pune city police was about to file a closure report in this case.

Satej Patil: I won’t be able to comment because that is a very sensitive and confidential case, but police are looking into it.

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