Congress hard-pressed to separate friends from foes

Ravikiran DeshmukhWith controversies hitting home one after another, ruling political parties — especially Congress — have been at the receiving end of rancour at the Centre as well as in the states.

The party that was asking people to vote for stability is worried about its own future following the CAG report on arbitrary allocation of coal blocks and alleged involvement of its key leaders.

At this time, it can’t be predicted how the political scenario will change — whether friends would remain firm as a part of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) or a new coalition will emerge sans Congress and BJP.

Raj Thackeray
Dangerous alliance: The possibility of a MNS alliance with the Shiv Sena has increased the woes of the Congress

In Maharashtra too, the Congress camp is cagey about NCP and whether the Democratic Front would exist at the time of elections in 2014. Leaders from the grand old party seem to have turned camera-shy, as they have no convincing answers to explain the myriad scams.

Congress’ predicament has increased following action by CBI against a few industrial houses, and leaders such as Rajya Sabha member Vijay Darda and his younger brother Rajendra Darda who is a minister in Prithviraj Chavan’s cabinet. Here at the state level it is facing trouble from ally NCP as well as the new alliance shaping up between Shiv Sena and MNS.

What happened between Congress and NCP last Sunday hasn’t found a lot of space in the media, but it is enough the exacerbate relations between the two parties who have been allies since 1999.

Speaking before his NCP workers at Ahmadnagar, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar said his party was suffering due to the partnership with Congress and their numbers were dipping in each election. He took potshots at Congress mincing no words.

Two days later state Congress unit chief Manikrao Thakre said the alliance partner was spreading misleading information among people.

To prove his point he said his party had to allot 23 seats, instead of the previously decided 21, to the NCP during the last Lok Sabha elections due to the latter’s aggressive stand. Congress fought 25 seats instead of 27 and won 23, but NCP could win just 8 out of the 23 it contested. Thakre made this accusation in the presence of AICC in-charge Mohan Prakash.

It seems the Congress leadership has presumed that NCP is going to be a principal opponent in the next general elections.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and his party colleagues too have decided to corner NCP. There are discussions in the political circles over his recent whammy for Ajit Pawar when the CM reportedly declined to announce the programme to elect the new board of directors for Maharashtra State Apex Cooperative Bank, dominated by NCP for years.

The bank, which plays a crucial role in offering credit to cooperative units in the state, has traditionally been controlled by the Pawars. And the cooperative network is known as the backbone of the rural economy and also influences a decisive vote bank.

Before this, Chavan unnerved NCP when he refused to sign NCP leader and Home Minister RR Patil and his department’s recommendation to transfer Arup Patnaik from Mumbai CP’s post. Patnaik was later promoted and moved to Maharashtra State Security Council. But the delay helped MNS and the NCP camp was pleased that Chavan was blamed for bowing to Raj Thackeray as the decision came soon after his demand for Patnaik’s removal.

Congress is now left with no option but to change its tack towards MNS, which its leaders nurtured in the past to nonplus Shiv Sena and BJP.
The growing proximity between Thackerays and the newfound intimacy between Sena and MNS is a big threat that Congress cannot ignore. A situation like this hadn’t existed ever since Raj decided to quit Sena and form his own outfit, only to boost the Congress tally.

The division of votes that forced Shiv Sena and BJP to eat humble pie is now history. So, MNS — once a friend in disguise — is appearing as a foe for Congress.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY 

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