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Congress-NCP can't live with or without each other

Ravikiran DeshmukhIn the third week of June, CM Prithviraj Chavan was on the brink of losing his chair, thanks to NCP’s pressure tactics and manoeuvrings in Delhi. But in a refreshing display of solidarity, the Congress high command stood solidly behind him. When sulking industries minister Narayan Rane tendered his resignation on July 21 over his unhappiness with CM’s leadership, the high command backed Chavan yet again, and wheedled Rane into relenting.

After the crisis, Chavan said he would lead Congress from the front, into the state assembly elections. But there is doubt over how much scope he has to do that. The Congress high command has now forced Chavan to work with five different committees, appointed for the elections. Rane will head the state campaign committee, with Chavan a mere member in it. This implies that the party leadership is either unsure of CM’s leadership, or cannot ignore his detractors.

On the issue of reservation to the Dhangar community, NCP put Chavan in a spot. Last Wednesday, the CM announced that the cabinet had decided to forward a recommendation to create a third schedule in the Const-itution to offer reservations to Dhangars, on par with the SC and the ST. But on Saturday, NCP chief Sharad Pawar distanced himself from the cabinet’s decision, saying that his party did not support the third schedule to offer reservation to the Dhangars.

In distancing himself from the decision, Pawar seemed to forget that his party ministers, led by nephew and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, were part of the state cabinet’s decision that recommended the creation of a third schedule for the Dhangars. In trying to snub Chavan, Pawar Sr ended up going against ministers of his own party. Such instances of open dissension between NCP and Cong have been coming thick and fast for a while now.

Even Chavan does not mince his words about the NCP. On Friday, during a tour of infrastructural projects given to the media, the CM said projects planned by MSRDC lacked financial backing. He mentioned passenger water transport in particular, which has been awaiting clearance from a cabinet committee on infrastructure since August 2012. The MSRDC, which is headed by NCP Minister Jaidatta Kshirsagar, made several attempts to take up projects, and in one meeting, the CM asked CIDCO and MMRDA, which work directly under him, to share funds with them for the water transport project. These bodies, however, clearly told MSRDC that the funds wouldn’t be interest-free amounts, but come as a loan, with interest charged at 9%. This led to a deadlock.

While answering a motion in the state legislature during the Monsoon Session in June last year, the CM said a traffic data study for the eastern waterways project was being verified. For the western waterway project, MMRDA is yet to communicate its willingness for 33% share, was the reply. Both the Congress and the NCP forget that Mumbaikars, who are deprived of an alternative mode of transport, are not interested in such political skullduggery. The project, pegged at Rs 1,700 cr in 2012, has risen manifold now. Such attempts to score points do not inspire faith in the Cong-NCP alliance, which has been ruling the state since 1999.

In another twist, several Congress-appointed panels are headed by senior party men who have reservations about Chavan’s style of working. Not just Narayan Rane, Ashok Chavan and his loyalists have also been vociferous in their opposition to Chavan. Now, both Rane and Ashok Chavan are expected to cooperate with him. Senior leader Sushilkumar Shinde’s appoi-ntment as head of manifesto committee is quite inexplicable. During his tenure as the CM, Shinde had announced free power supply to farmers, and even ensured that bills with zero amounts were sent by the state power utility, before the 2004 general elections to assembly. This trick kept the Congress-NCP in power, but Shinde was denied another term and shunted to Hyderabad as governor of Andhra Pradesh. Vilasrao Deshmukh, who succeeded him, refused to continue free power supply to farmers, saying that promises made during elections are not necessarily meant to be fulfilled. Now, the same Shinde will draft a manifesto for Cong, which will later become a joint manifesto of Cong-NCP.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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