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Congress counters NCP's slights, all barrels firing

Outraged by NCP supremo Sharad Pawar's unflattering remarks about the UPA government, the state Congress unit is retaliating, blow for blow

The chinks in the poorly welded armour of the Democratic Front Government are deepening to form the most indelible cracks and fissures. What was, till a few weeks ago, being waved off as an internal skirmish, has now acquired the proportions of a full-blown war. The battle lines are drawn, and the artillery is out. It's time for some pre-Diwali fireworks.


Illustration/Jishu Dev Malakar

It all began with Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar's aggressive campaign to woo senior leaders away from the ranks of its own ally, the Congress, and into the NCP's fold. The fairly timid Congress leaders raised a few eyebrows, but left it at that. But what fuelled the embers of the Congress' disgruntlement into a raging fire of discontent was a series of unflattering statements made by the NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, on the faltering fortunes of the re-elected UPA government. And all hell broke loose.

The last straw?
Pawar senior, who heads the Union Agriculture Ministry, did not mince his words as he dwelled on the drastic deterioration of the UPA in its second term in power, at a public meet held on October 18.

In Pawar's evaluation, the UPA, in its first tenure, had created a strong sense of security among the populace, but its second term in power left much to be desired, steeped as it was in a quagmire of scams and controversies. Its nadir came with the exposure of the 2G scam, remarked Pawar, whose party has been in coalition with the Congress since 1999 in Maharashtra, and since 2004 at the centre.


Face-off: The first signs of friction appeared when Deputy Chief Minister
Ajit Pawar poached leaders away from the ranks of its coalition partner,
the Congress.  Later, CM Prithviraj Chavan said that
voters were
disappointed with the NCP. File pic


A merciless Pawar also alleged that the UPA had failed to rise to its own defense in the wake of the 2G scam, especially since the CAG report could not provide concrete details to substantiate the allegation that Rs 1.76 lakh crore had been lost by the government. This failure to clear its own name, was an unmistakable sign of internal weakness, said Pawar.

A relentless Pawar went on to remark that the Food Security Act, touted as the NCP's trump card in a scam-riddled tenure, would deplete the government's coffers by a dear Rs 1.15 lakh crore, an expense that it could ill afford.

The counter-attack
As they say, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Pawar's comments have reportedly caused a furor in the Congress ranks, and what was being written off as a squabble between lukewarm lovers, has speedily turned into an acrimonious, splenetic exchange.

Awakened from their prolonged slumber, the Congress bigwigs are now on the warpath. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, a staunch Congressman, is usually reticent and tightlipped about the failed alliance. Reeling from Pawar's onslaughts, however, he retaliated, all barrels firing. He was present at a Congress rally on October 21 in Kolhapur, which was held to induct local MP Sadashivrao Mandlik into the Congress' fold. This is a significant haul for the Congress, as Mandlik is a former NCP leader, and Pawar's staunch friend-turned-bitter-foe.

At the rally, Chavan reiterated that voters are disillusioned and disappointed with leaders who floated their new party in 1999, to serve ulterior motives. It didn't take the intelligence of a rocket scientist to deduce that the jibe was directed at the NCP. He also claimed that the discerning electorate was gradually realising that a stable one-party-government was the need of the hour, and only the Congress party could provide it.

On October 23, Chavan visited Yavatmal to grace the bhoomipujan of a development project. This was seen as moral-booster for the Congress members in the district, which is still reeling from the desertion of its MP Uttamrao Patil. Patil, who has earlier represented Yavatmal for a record seven terms as a Congress representative, was recently wooed into the NCP's fold, much to the chagrin of Congress leaders.

Industries Minister Narayan Rane launched the third counter-attack at a recent rally in Ratnagiri. Here, Rane lambasted the NCP, saying that mere muscle-flexing and aggressive campaign strategies had failed to win over the people of Khadakwasla, where the BJP stunned the NCP by winning an assembly seat at the recent bye-poll. Rane too reiterated that the nation had made overall progress, purely because of the Congress.  

 The next Congressman to rise to the party's defence was MLA and Co-operation Minister Harshwardhan Patil. At Indapur, Pune on October 21, Patil came down heavily on Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, with the tacit approval of Chavan, who was present at the venue. Patil asked why leaders from the neighboring constituency (read Baramati, the hometown of the Pawars) have been making frequent trips to the Congress bastion of Indrapur, during local elections. He demanded that the MPCC probe the matter.

'Happy Diwali'
So who will have the last word? The potshots continue, and more fireworks are in store. When asked what its reactions were to the Congress' assaults, the NCP's state unit Chief Madhukar Pichad smiled wryly, saying that his party would give the Congress a fitting reply on November 2, at the meeting of the NCP state executive. He signed off with a cryptic statement: "Till then, we wish them a very happy Diwali, with lots of sweets."

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