When the unrest in the nation’s capital was at its peak over the deteriorating health of the Delhi gang rape survivor, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi skipped the customary New Year wishes and said her only desire was that the young woman recovers and ‘comes back to us’.
Though this did not happen, on Friday, the 127th foundation day of Congress was a low-key affair compared to the usual fanfare, where Mrs Gandhi spoke.
But, here in Maharashtra things were totally different. The state unit of Congress was in celebratory mood as a mammoth function at Somaiya Grounds ended with fireworks in the evening. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the alliance partner in the Democratic Front government, too was busy in a grand inauguration of its swank party office near Mantralaya.
Despite concerted efforts by state units of the outfit, except Gulam Nabi Azad no other Congress union minister turned up at the foundation day revelry. Ministers who represent the state in Delhi were conspicuous by their absence.
Even city MPs such as Priya Dutt and Gurudas Kamat were not visible. The state Congress tried its best to salvage the situation by roping in party MP from UP Raj Babbar and, of course, Azad.
Congress utilised the 127th foundation day to celebrate the fulfilment of promises made to people of the state. A prominent one was a recent decision to allot 12.5 acres of Indu Mills land for Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s memorial.
The party wanted to lay claim on this as a major political decision to win the hearts of followers of Dr Ambedkar, recognised as a crucial vote bank. MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre is desperate to project himself as the architect of the decision-making and spared no effort to take credit for it.
At both the ceremonies – of Congress and NCP – prominent leaders took pot shots at each other. NCP did not like Thakre’s attempts to project himself and the Congress as solely responsible for the land allotment.
The NCP state unit chief Madhukar Pichad launched a veiled attack on his Congress counterpart and sought permission from party chief Sharad Pawar to let the state unit face the coming general elections on its own, instead of aligning with Congress. The supremo’s nephew Ajit Pawar too spoke of taking the party to number one position in the state. NCP’s union minister Praful Patel praised Gujrat CM Narendra Modi and vented his ire on Congress’ betrayal during the recent assembly polls. And CM Prithviraj Chavan said it was not difficult for Congress to win the next general elections.
All said and done, both Congress and NCP are enjoying the non-existence of formidable opposition parties to unseat them. And that’s why people of the state get to hear such verbal wars while other pressing issues take a backseat.
Today, the state seems to be on the verge of bankruptcy and the government had to withdraw Rs 10 lakh through Contingency Fund for making payments to police informers. Supplementary demand for the budgetary expenditure, tabled during the winter session at Nagpur recently, revealed all this information, including the fact that money needed for two-member Adarsh inquiry commission was also withdrawn from the Contingency Fund.
The government sought state assembly approval for supplementary demands when just three months are left for the current financial year to end. Such incidences show that the government has failed to maintain its financial discipline.
On Friday, a special meeting of the state cabinet was convened to seek approval for Rs 550 crore to be withdrawn from the Contingency Fund. The money is needed to tackle the water scarcity in parts of the state. In the coming months the government will be facing its worst-ever drought-like situation where maintaining a steady water supply will be the most challenging job.
Even though the Congress-NCP government has not been successful in providing a well-administered progressive state to the people, the absence of serious opposition has only compounded the problems. Otherwise, during such an alarming scenario almost on all fronts, the coalition partners would not have dared to speak against each other the way leaders of both parties did on Friday.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY