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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Explained: Tracking the churn in Maharashtra’s ruling coalition

How verbal slugfests, disagreements over the choice of Assembly Speaker, the question of contesting future elections together, and the BJP's repeated overtures to the Shiv Sena have laid bare the tensions among the Sena, NCP, and Congress

Written by Manoj Dattatrye More , Edited by Explained Desk | Pune |
Updated: July 15, 2021 9:24:40 am
Nana Patole and Sharad Pawar (Express Illustrations)

Sharad Pawar on Sunday (July 11) dismissed Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole as a “small leader” who was best ignored. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief was provoked by Patole’s accusation, made the previous day, that the NCP and Shiv Sena had “backstabbed” the Congress.

The Congress, juniormost among the three constituent parties of Maharashtra’s ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), has been increasingly vocal of late about being allegedly sidelined in decision-making.

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Even as the Sena and NCP have pushed back against the Congress’s allegations, constant attempts by the BJP to break the MVA and resurrect its old partnership with the Sena has kept the political pot boiling.

Nana Patole vs Sharad Pawar

At a Congress meeting in Lonavala on Saturday (July 10), Patole, responding to complaints that Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who is also the Pune District Guardian Minister, was being uncooperative, advised party workers and leaders to convert their hardship and anger into strength.

“Who is the District Guardian Minister of Pune? Someone from Baramati. Whose work is he doing; is he doing our work?” Patole asked the meeting.

He exhorted party workers to stay strong, so that they could “enter Baramati” — the Pawar family stronghold — to defeat the “enemy”.

“Do not become mentally weak,” Patole said. “If they do not want to compromise and backstab us despite being together (in government), then keep calm and convert the pain into our strength… Let us resolve to instal our person as the next Guardian Minister. If we have to beat our enemy, we will have to enter Baramati and accomplish the job…”

Ajit Pawar in Pune. (Express Photo: Ashish Kale, File)

A Congress leader from Pune said Ajit Pawar was denying the Congress seats on government committees in the district.

“There are some government committees in the district. The formula for appointing members on the committee is 60-20-20. NCP gets the biggest share as it has more seats in Pune district. However, these appointments have been held up for long as [Ajit] Pawar is not giving the green signal,” this leader said.

Patole also alleged that his phones were being tapped, and that reports were being submitted to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar with details of his conversations and movements.

In response, Sharad Pawar said on Sunday: “Patole is too small a leader to warrant a reaction to his comments. If [Congress president] Sonia Gandhi had something, I would have reacted.”

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Contesting elections

Patole announced last month that the Congress would go solo in all coming elections. The party had a good base in the state, and contesting alone would help expand its footprint and have its own Chief Minister, he said.

Before Patole, Mumbai Congress chief Bhai Jagtap had said that the party would contest the Mumbai civic elections by itself.

In response, Sena mouthpiece Saamna wrote acidly in an editorial: “Parliamentary democracy is all about numbers. If Congress can muster 145 seats [in the House of 288], then it can have its own CM. There is nothing wrong in having ambitions in politics but without the numbers, such comments reflect overconfidence.”

Chief Minister Thackeray told Sainiks to start preparing for the polls, with or without alliance partners.

Ajit Pawar said the decision on the elections would be taken by Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar, and Sonia Gandhi. “The three parties decided to form the MVA government. They will together take the call on contesting the elections, whether in alliance or not,” he said.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray and Maharashtra Congress President Balasaheb Thorat at a meeting in Mumbai after the allies came to power in Maharashtra. (ANI Photo/File)

Stalemate over Speaker

The post of Speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly has been lying vacant ever since Patole resigned in February to become the PCC chief.

The Congress was keen to hold an election for the post during the two-day monsoon session on July 5-6. However, the Sena and NCP feared that some MLAs might not turn up due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the government might struggle to find the numbers in its favour.

Also, there is no agreement yet on the candidate. Of the two names doing the rounds, the Sena prefers former CM Prithviraj Chavan over three-time MLA Sangram Thopte. It feels that having a seasoned politician in the presiding officer’s seat is crucial, given the BJP’s relentless efforts to bring down the government. “Congress has to decide on its nomination, we can’t. But yes, the CM has a good rapport with Chavan,” Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut said.

The NCP, however, is not in favour of Chavan as Speaker. As CM of the Congress-NCP government during 2010-14, he had stalled several projects proposed by the NCP, especially by Ajit Pawar.

Meanwhile, the Sena seems to be eyeing the post for itself now. As presiding officer during the monsoon session, Sena MLA Bhaskar Jadhav suspended 12 BJP MLAs for misbehaviour for a year; Jadhav has said the Sena should get the Speaker’s post and the Congress a ministerial berth.

BJP wooing Sena

Thackeray’s 30-minute one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi last month triggered speculation of a rapprochement between the erstwhile saffron allies.

After Sena leader Pratap Sarnaik, who is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate, wrote to Thackeray asking him to make peace with the BJP in order to solve problems being faced by Sena leaders, state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil said: “We have been repeatedly saying that this (MVA) is an unnatural alliance. The ideology of the Sena is quite different from that of the other two parties…”

Sena chief spokesperson Sanjay Raut too has said that his party was not an enemy of the BJP. He has, however, denied that he has been holding closed-door meetings with BJP leaders.

And on Sunday, BJP MLA Nitesh Rane said they were ready to join hands with “anyone” if the BJP leadership directs them to do so. Sena MP Vinayak Raut who was present at the function even patted Nitesh affectionately, something that has hardly ever been seen between Sena leaders and the Ranes ever since Narayan Rane — the former Chief Minister who is now a Minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government — quit the Sena in 2005.

Interestingly, while Sharad Pawar and Patole have expressed confidence that the MVA government would last its full term, Thackeray has not. However, the Sena has said that Thackeray would remain CM for a full five years.

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