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BJP government kicks off, Congress, Shiv Sena in a fix

The three-day session of the state legislature begins today, in which the newly elected MLAs will take oath of membership of the state Assembly. In 2009, when a similar session was underway, from Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) MLAs had stopped Samajwadi Party Abu Asim Azmi from taking oath in Hindi. They had even tried to slap Azmi.

MNS’ antics, designed to further the party’s pro-Marathi agenda, made headlines in newspapers across the country. Five years later, MNS which had won 13 seats in its debut election has hit rock bottom with one seat. Ramesh Wanjle, the man who snatched the microphone from Azmi, is no more. Ram Kadam, who allegedly attempted to slap Azmi, is now a BJP MLA. Azmi himself is the lone MLA in the state from his party. This has amply proven that the politics of hatred, regional bias and communal intent has lost its sheen. Voters have chosen development and rejected scams. Only time will tell how BJP measures up to the aspirations of voters.

The BJP has assumed office with the outside support of NCP and is trying to cut its former ally to size. In response to the latter’s demand for maximum Cabinet berths in the state, two Union berths were offered by the BJP.

In the three-day session, the first two days will witness oath-taking of the 287 newly elected MLAs in the 288-member Assembly (one BJP MLA died even before he could take oath). The last day is crucial with important developments Devendra Fadnavis will seek a vote of trust for his government, and a consensus on BJP’s nominee for the post of Assembly Speaker. Then the Governor will address the Assembly.

Even though it is presumed that no opposition party is in a mood to disturb Fadnavis’s government at this juncture, attempts are on to put him in a fix. The NCP doesn’t want to do so openly, but the party wants the new government to take a lenient view on a few crucial matters before the state Anti-Corruption Bureau related to its senior leaders. A few recent decisions have landed a blow to the NCP. A drastic review of the toll collection system, and the disbanding of director boards of agriculture produce marketing committees and some cooperative institutions under the NCP’s control is bound to raise hackles in the party.

Both the decisions were taken by Chandrakant Patil, Minister for Cooperatives and PWD and an RSS man known to be close to BJP chief Amit Shah. Another decision that has not gone down well with the NCP is that of an announcement of a white paper on the state economy. Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar is keen on such a paper to take the state into confidence, but the NCP thinks it as an attempt to malign its image.
Whatever happens, the NCP is firm on supporting the BJP government and there is more to this than meets the eye. While trying to stall further probes against its members, the party wants to do maximum damage to the Congress, which, it feels, has done everything to decimate it. It also wants to stop any possibilities of defection the NCP is considered most vulnerable to a break-up.

The Congress, meanwhile, is grappling in the dark. Internal differences are eating into the party organisation. A group that owes allegiance to former CM Ashok Chavan is opposing any important role for ex-CM Prithviraj Chavan. But Prithviraj Chavan’s image is arguably the best among the present lot of Congress leaders, though he was not popular among his party MLAs and workers. Unless drastic measures are taken, the Congress will find it difficult to make a comeback. To save itself a huge embarrassment, the party passed a resolution authorising Sonia Gandhi to handpick the leader of the legislature party.

The Shiv Sena, meanwhile, is facing a predicament of its own. While the party remained undecided over joining the state government, exasperation within its camp was evident when a few party leaders met senior NCP leaders even as talks over recommending the two names for the Union Cabinet expansion were on. Even though the Sena has denied any such meeting happened, NCP chief Sharad Pawar did the requisite damage by confirming it, making it clear that the NCP does not want to destabilise the state government.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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