The coordination committee meeting of Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) held on Saturday evening was a smooth affair, especially given how tumultuous relationships had turned only days ago. Respective chiefs of the state units of both parties, Manikrao Thakre and Madhukar Pichad, went to the extent of proclaiming that the atmosphere of discontent was over and even if there were any minor grouses, they would be sorted out through regular meetings of the committee in future. Thakre also said both parties met in a cordial atmosphere and decided to get together every month to discuss and sort out differences. For now the focus is on drought.
Perplexed minds would ask if such was the harmony, then what exactly was the recent drama all about? What led Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and his party colleague Union heavy industries minister Praful Patel to boycott their official work for almost a week? Even the everyday business of the state government was affected, as there were speculations over the continuation of the Prithviraj Chavan-led government.
The atmosphere was tense and a section within Congress too trained its guns on Prithviraj Chavan, wanting him to be replaced. But meetings involving Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Sharad Pawar and later with Chavan seem to have sorted out most of the differences, and perhaps now the netas can focus their attention on the challenges before the state, especially in the wake of the blasts in Pune.
There is no doubt that relations between Congress and NCP are strained, and things are only getting worse with the passage of time. So even if both partners prefer to hide the animosity to the best of their abilities, people of the state are naive enough to fall for the grandstanding.
What exactly happened during the meeting would be an interesting revelation in the backdrop of the growing frustration in both parties over tacit political moves to nonplus each other. Whatever Thakre or Pichad may say, it is a fact that the meeting discussed an important issue regarding sharing of crucial data from government files with select leaders from Opposition. And NCP was particularly unhappy over documents available with certain leaders of BJP related to ministers Chhagan Bhujbal and Sunil Tatkare who are facing a number of allegations currently.
The CM reportedly denied anyone from his party having leaked such details. On the other hand, NCP leaders Praful Patel, Ajit Pawar and Madhukar Pichad were heard saying the data available with Opposition party leaders cannot be accessed easily.
Another important issue that came up for discussion was disgruntlement among the ministers of state belonging to both parties. These junior ministers from both parties have been sulking over their cabinet bosses not sharing any powers with them. Many of them believe they are only around to reply in debates at the state legislature and maintaining an attendance in the House. It was pointed out that MoS for urban development Bhaskar Jadhav’s strong disappointment over non-allocation of work led him to quit his office for over 15 days. Jadhav, after writing a letter to the CM and forwarding a copy to Dy CM Ajit Pawar, boycotted office work and left for his hometown in Ratnagiri district recently.
Another NCP MoS Fauzia Khan too has written a few letters to the CM over her being not allocated any official work, NCP members pointed out to Prithviraj Chavan. Despite being MoS for seven departments, Khan has been neglected by her cabinet colleagues. Similar is the situation with some junior ministers from Congress quota, who complain their NCP cabinet colleagues do not allocate any work to them. The long-pending issue is now on the priority list of the Democratic Front government partners.
The discontent within NCP does not end here. Minister for excise, environment and labour Ganesh Naik has written at least three letters to the CM requesting him for adequate space after the Mantralaya fire burnt down his fifth floor office. He is now occupying a chamber at Vidhan Bhavan as a makeshift workplace, but his staffers sit at Maharashtra Energy Development Authority (MEDA) office at Embassy Centre, Nariman Point.
So, an uneasy peace may have been brokered by the two alienated allies, but one suspects the games of one-upmanship and shifting blame will return sooner rather than later. And they are likely to be as interesting to watch as the Olympics.
— The writer is political editor of MiD DAY