The ongoing struggle for supremacy between ruling alliance partners Congress and NCP reached a stage yesterday where it sent shockwaves through the coalition government, with the NCP going ahead with the inauguration of the Government Cancer Hospital in Aurangabad despite all-out Congress efforts to stall the event.
Even Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had put his weight behind the Congress bid to stop the NCP from scoring a point over its big brother in the coalition.
The high political drama over the inauguration of the hospital, built at a cost of Rs 64 crore, began on September 11, when the Medical Education Department headed by NCP minister Dr Vijaykumar Gavit approached Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar with an invitation to throw open the facility.
The senior NCP leader accepted the invitation, and the programme was scheduled for September 21.
Sources in the Democratic Front government said Aurangabad district guardian minister Balasaheb Thorat and School Education Minister Rajendra Darda got wind of the plan and, to score a point over the NCP, approached Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to grace the inauguration function.
The Congress leader accepted the invitation and gave a date, October 5, for the function. The secretary of the Medical Education Department and other officials concerned were informed about the CM’s acceptance.
Simultaneously, preparations for the inauguration of the hospital at the hands of Pawar continued, and both Thorat and Darda were informed about it. Invitation cards were printed and finer details of the function were worked out to enable Pawar to do the job.
The Congress was hell-bent on stalling the inauguration by Pawar, and after a missive from the CM’s office the Medical Education Department stopped all preparations for the Pawar programme.
True to his style, Pawar simply ignored the Congress bid to stop him, said sources. He is believed to have called senior officials of the Medical Education Department on Thursday and told them that the programme would take place as originally planned. This done, Pawar remained inaccessible for the department and even the CM’s office and Congress ministers, a move that prevented a showdown.
Sources said Pawar then told his party colleague Gavit to inaugurate the hospital, while deciding to stay away from the function. He did not respond to frantic calls made by top Congress leaders; a senior leader said his cell phone was switched off.
Even senior officials from Aurangabad were told by Congress leaders to stall the programme.
Sources said the Divisional Commissioner and District Collector made every possible effort to prevent the NCP from going ahead with the function. After the event, a senior official even got himself admitted to a local hospital, fearing the wrath of the political masters.
Besides Gavit, local NCP legislators Satish Chavan and Sanjay Wakchowre, Shiv Sena MP Chandrakant Khire and Independent MLA Pradip Jaiswal were present at the function, on which Rs 10 lakh were spent.
MLC Satish Chavan, who is also NCP spokesman, said the function took place as scheduled as any delay would have caused embarrassment.
Congress sources said the party was of the view that the inauguration should have been graced by the CM as former CMs Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan had extended full cooperation for the project.
Deshmukh had even graced the ground-breaking ceremony during his tenure. NCP sources said Pawar was aggressive about going ahead with the inauguration because the Congress had completely ignored two important functions held recently, one at Aurangabad and another at Satara.
The Aurangabad episode is set to spark a major controversy in the coalition as it directly involved two heavyweights of the alliance government — the Congress CM and the NCP Deputy CM.