A day after Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray launched a scathing attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party over allegations of corruption and irregularities, Maharashtra Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar took on the BJP’s alliance partner, saying it was an equal party to decision-making in the government and supported decisions that it was now criticising.
Indicating that BJP leaders in Maharashtra were in no mood now to take the Sena’s ‘shadow-boxing’ lightly, Mungantiwar said, “They (the Shiv Sena) will always be a valuable ally. But they must not forget that their own ministers are party to decisions of the cabinet, some of which they have criticised. I’m yet to come across any dissent note on a cabinet file by a Shiv Sena minister.”
On Sunday, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray had lashed out at the BJP ministers who are facing allegations of graft and irregularities in contracts okayed by them, saying “corruption has become quite visible everywhere”.
Mungantiwar, however, also sounded a word of caution regarding the BJP-Sena’s eight-month-old regime, saying while the government had taken a number of good decisions, it had failed to effectively communicate these to people, leading to a perception problem.
“I must admit that we have not been able to effectively communicate to people the good decisions we have taken,” Mungantiwar said, terming allegations against the government a “conspiracy” to overshadow the “good work done by the government”.
The Devendra Fadnavis government’s image has taken a beating following a series of allegations raised against senior ministers Pankaja Munde, Vinod Tawde and Babanrao Lonikar.
Munde’s name has cropped up in Rs 206-crore contracts allotted by her women and child development department towards purchase of various items for aanganwadi schools and her alleged interference in the tender process for two contracts allotted by the water conservation department. Tawde, meanwhile, has courted controversy over his educational qualification and a Rs 191-crore contract by the school education department for supply of fire extinguishers in zilla parishad schools. Lonikar, who holds the water supply and sanitation portfolio, on the other hand, is in the dock for allegedly misrepresenting his educational qualification in his election affidavit.
An embarrassing sting involving senior BJP leader and former minister Raj Purohit has further dented BJP’s image. The Opposition, too, has sharpened its attack against the government, claiming that it would not allow the upcoming monsoon session of the state legislature to function unless the tainted ministers step down.
Asked if the BJP was losing the battle of perception, Mungantiwar said. “We need to reach out to the masses more aggressively. We must improve involvement of people in governance.”
The senior BJP minister, who has now been appointed as the government’s spokesperson on all issues, was speaking at an Idea Exchange programme at The Indian Express office in Mumbai.
There are indications that the BJP high command in Delhi has asked the party’s leadership in Maharashtra to rectify the situation before public perception worsens. Last week, party’s national president Amit Shah had ordered Mungantiwar and Cooperatives Minister Chandrakant Patil to stoutly defend Tawde after allegations surfaced against him in the fire extinguisher contract row. “Once the CM (Fadnavis) returns from the US, we will discuss ways of improving our communication lines with people,” Mungantiwar added.
Sources later confirmed that the Maharashtra BJP had plans to assess matters that were hurting the government’s reputation.
Mungantiwar, meanwhile, stoutly defended both Tawde and Munde. “They have done no wrong,” he said, adding that “the government will face all queries of the Opposition in the upcoming session”.
With the debt mounting on the state exchequer, the finance minister said the immediate challenge before him was to raise spend on capital works. “Our plan is to increase the capital expenditure from Rs 28,000 crore in 2015-16 to Rs 40,000 crore in 2019-20,” he said.
Mungantiwar lashed out at the Congress-NCP government for lack of fiscal prudence. “We inherited an Rs 3.3 lakh crore public debt from them. The money borrowed was hardly used for creating assets. There were several leakages in the system,” he added.
Claiming that Gujarat was inching ahead of Maharashtra, Mungantiwar said, “It is our misfortune that the previous government did not make good use of the advantages the state has over other to attract jobs and investment. We can’t rectify the situation overnight, but are working towards it.”