Even as the Maha Vikas Aghadi government struggles to contain the spread of Covid-19 in Maharashtra, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said that his party was neither running the government nor a key decision-maker in it. The remarks set off speculation that alliance partner Congress was distancing itself from Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s handling of the situation.
The Congress has eight cabinet ministers and four ministers of state in the Aghadi government.
Rahul’s remarks also come at a time when the BJP is sharpening its attack on the Thackeray government over its handling of the crisis. Maharashtra now has nearly one-third of the corona cases in India.
Sources in the Congress said there is anxiety in the party over the worsening situation in the state. A section of leaders believes Rahul was reflecting that unease when he sought to differentiate between states ruled by the Congress and governments supported by it. Some others disagreed.
Asked about the situation in the state, Rahul said at an AICC press conference that Maharashtra is one of the most “connected states” in India and is struggling because of this.
He added: “I would like to make a differentiation here. We are supporting the government in Maharashtra. But we are not the key decision maker in Maharashtra. We are the key decision maker in Punjab, in Chhattisgarh, in Rajasthan and in Puducherry. So, there is a difference between running a government and supporting a government.”
Rahul had made similar remarks on the migrant crisis in Maharashtra. “States where we are in alliance, we put pressure, but it is a conversation with other parties…,” he had said on May 16.
Sources said AICC general secretary in-charge of Maharashtra Mallikarjun Kharge has called a meeting of state Congress ministers and senior party office-bearers on Wednesday.
A senior high command leader told The Indian Express that it was strange that Thackeray had confined himself to his residence, indicating that there is unhappiness over his style of working as well. However, state leaders are said to be divided. Those in the ministry believe the CM is trying to contain the situation, while those who could not get any post believe the Aghadi government’s inability to contain the outbreak is affecting its goodwill and credibility. This section says the Congress will have to share the blame for the situation.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Kharge as well as senior Congress leader and Maharashtra minister Nitin Raut pointed out that Mumbai’s population density is a challenge. Kharge said that much of the cases in the state are from crowded slums in Mumbai, Thane and Aurangabad. “Government is trying hard… but there are challenges,” he said.
Raut alleged the BJP is contacting MLAs of the Congress, Sena and NCP in a bid to topple the government. “Devendra Fadnavis is contacting all our MLAs through his people. He is also trying to pressure the governor to impose President’s Rule,” Raut said.
Some in the Congress are openly questioning Thackeray’s style of working. Senior Mumbai Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam told The Indian Express, “There is a huge communication gap between leaders of the government. Shiv Sena is running the government on its own as if it is their government. And because the CM does not have administrative skill and experience, he is dependent on bureaucrats. That is why there is a huge governance deficit….”
Rahul also said, “If the BJP wants to raise questions constructively… they should… it helps because our government can listen and learn… But to uproot the democratic structure and without any reason impose President’s Rule… there is a difference between that and constructive opposition.”
The remark is seen as an attempt to counter possible criticism that he is attacking the Centre’s handling of the pandemic and at the same time washing his hands of a government of which the Congress is a part.
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