An hour-long meeting between Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and senior Congress leaders Balasaheb Thorat and Ashok Chavan at Matoshree on Thursday ended without the Congress camp getting any firm commitment on the issues it had raised.
But both Thorat and Chavan dismissed any reports of rancour, describing the meeting as being “extremely positive and satisfactory”.
This was the second consecutive meeting between the two allies in the wake of Congress’ displeasure at not being included in key decision-making process and meetings. On Wednesday, Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Anil Desai, a trusted confidante of Uddhav, had held talks with Thorat, who heads the Congress in Maharashtra.
At the meeting, sources said Congress mainly raised the issue of unequal distribution of development funds among constituencies represented by MLAs from the three ruling parties and complained of how party ministers were not being actively consulted for policy decisions pertaining to even some of the departments headed by Congress.
A proposal for the formation of a separate infrastructure board in the Ashok-led PWD was cited as a case in point. The Congress complained that the proposal was formulated without consulting Chavan and may infringe upon his department’s jurisdiction. It also raised an issue regarding appointments and transfer of bureaucrats in its department.
Sources said that while Uddhav gave Congress a patient hearing and said he would personally look into the issues, no firm assurances were given.
While the Congress also raised the issue of the overarching influence of the bureaucracy in Uddhav’s decision-making process, Thorat, however, said that “no specific person was discussed”. Speculation is rife that Congress is not in favour of granting a further extension to Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta, whose extended tenure ends on June 30.
On issues related to Chavan’s department, Uddhav’s assurance was to iron out differences through further talks, also involving Sena leader and Public Undertakings Minister Eknath Shinde, whose department is also a stakeholder.
Congress is also reportedly pushing for the implementation of a NYAY-like scheme in Maharashtra in the aftermath of Covid-19 pandemic and has demanded that the coalition announce cash transfers to vulnerable sections. While saying that he was “positive” about the scheme, Uddhav highlighted the financial constraints faced by the state exchequer while assuring that the proposal will be considered, said sources.
Ironically, a panel appointed by the government for economic revival has also recommended such cash assistance for those in the unorganised sector.
At the meeting, Congress made it clear that it will not compromise on its demand for an equal share of seats in Legislative Council polls. Later speaking to mediapersons, Thorat said, “Equal seat distribution for Legislative Council polls was decided upon by the three sides before the government was formed. There is no need for further discussion in this regard.”
The Congress, however, sounded upbeat about a “favourable” outcome of the meeting. “The meeting was extremely positive. We were never upset. But there were certain things that could only have been discussed face to face. The MVA is stable and will remain in power for the full five years,” said Thorat. Chavan added, “The discussions were satisfactory. The Congress has presented its side on certain issues related to public interest. We are now looking forward to an early decision regarding these.”
In what was the first complain by an ally, Thorat had last week opened up about the fault lines within the alliance. Upset at being treated literally like the third wheel when it came to decision making in the alliance, the Congress camp had sought a one-on-one meeting with Uddhav.
Later, in an interview to The Indian Express, Chavan had also come out on how there was a growing feeling among senior ministers of the party that their issues were not being heard or addressed. Alleging that a section of the bureaucracy was trying to engineer a rift in the coalition, Chavan also spoke on the need for Uddhav to rein them in.
Sounding off Sena and NCP, Chavan had further said that Congress’ aim to keep BJP at bay should not be treated as the party’s weakness. An editorial on Tuesday in Sena mouthpiece Saamana, in which Congress was compared to a “old, creaky cot”, has further frayed the party’s nerves, even as it sought to clarify that it was “firmly” in the MVA.