The war of words between senior Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and the NCP leadership intensified on Thursday with the leader of Opposition in the state Assembly blaming NCP president Sharad Pawar for his son’s defection to the BJP. Vikhe-Patil also said that he will not campaign in Ahmednagar, where his son Sujay is likely to be fielded by the BJP.
The NCP, an ally of the Congress, has refused to leave the seat for Sujay, prompting him to join BJP on Tuesday. The NCP plans to field party legislator Arun Jagtap from the constituency.
Speaking out for the first time after his son rocked the Opposition’s boat and amid questions being raised over his “commitment” towards Congress, Vikhe-Patil maintained that Sujay’s decision to join BJP had nothing to do with him. He, however, alleged that his son might have taken the decision after Pawar’s remarks about his father, (late) Eknathrao alias Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil.
Declining Vikhe-Patil’s insistence that NCP vacate the seat for Congress, Pawar had rekindled his long-standing feud between him and Balasaheb.
He had even referred to a 1991 court case where the senior Vikhe-Patil had accused Pawar, then state chief minister, of corrupt electoral practices. While the Supreme Court had cleared Pawar of the accusations, there was a time during the legal battle when Pawar’s voting right had been suspended.
“It is unfortunate that a senior leader like Pawar dragged my father into the discussion. It wasn’t appropriate. He isn’t even alive. Until then, Sujay hadn’t taken any decision. He may have felt slighted by the remarks. Pawar dragged my father into it not once but twice. I was hurt too,” he said.
Vikhe-Patil added, “It is being projected as if the discussion (for Ahmednagar) had centred around offering my son a ticket. This is an incorrect picture. Both Congress and NCP were holding discussions over possible exchange of some seats, which they have been losing consistently. If the Ahmednagar seat was offered to the Congress, we might have won.”
Hitting back, NCP state president Jayant Patil denied that Pawar had said “anything insulting”. He added, “Loyal Congress workers of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi will campaign for NCP in Ahmednagar.”
Meanwhile, at the party core committee meeting on Thursday, other Congress leaders sought a clarification from Vikhe-Patil about his stance vis-a-vis the party’s, following his son’s defection. Vikhe-Patil’s arch rival, former minister Vijay (Balasaheb) Thorat, who had led the pack of state leaders targeting him, was also present. Sources said that the two leaders exchanged heated barbs at the meeting.
Under fire, Vikhe-Patil said that he would narrate the “sequence of events” to the party’s central leadership, and would go with its decision. He added that he was not bound to issue any clarification to Thorat, and would talk about his party loyalties later.
Taking a dig at Vikhe-Patil, Thorat had on Wednesday publicly demanded that Patil clarify his stance on his continuation as the LoP. But on Thursday, Thorat said that “all he had said was that the developments had raised some suspicion (regarding Vikhe-Patil), which needed to be clarified”.
State Congress leader Ashok Chavan said that it was for the party’s central leadership to take a final call on the matter.