The prevailing political scenario in the state has seldom presented the Congress with any reasons to be distressed about its future. Except a few hiccups, such as the birth of NCP, a breakaway Congress group, which demands and commands equal share in power here since 1999.
But, there were moments of discomfiture when a group of party legislators raised some tricky issues during the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting held at Vidhan Bhavan last Monday. The party also appeared anxious when it refused to field an additional candidate for the upcoming biennial elections to the state council when four of its MLCs are vacating their seats and the party has fielded only three nominees.
On Monday July 9, the CLP meeting saw some fireworks where the target was none other than Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan for his alleged inept handling of the Adarsh housing society issue. Legislators, identified as supporters of former CM Ashok Chavan, who’s an accused in the Adarsh chargesheet filed by CBI recently, raised a hue and cry over delays by the government in opposing the CBI probe and filing of an affidavit before the Bombay High Court. The angry legislators also asked why the ex-CM was not being protected by the party when alliance partner NCP could do it for water resources minister Sunil Tatkare, who is in the dock over maladies in irrigation projects and stashing of money unaccounted for in over 100 companies.
The tone and tenor was so aggressive that when a legislator believed to be close to Prithviraj Chavan rose to speak, he was not allowed to say anything. Three legislators — Abdul Sattar, Sunil Kedar and Ramprasad Kadam Bordikar — left the meeting midway in protest. Such a scene paints a worrisome picture for the Congress, as open defiance against a CM hand picked by the party high command is virtually unheard of.
The last such incident took place during the tenure of ex-CM Sudhakarrao Naik, who was at loggerheads with his mentor Sharad Pawar. During a CLP meeting, at a time when Pawar wanted to dethrone Naik, a group of MLAs raised a banner of revolt and spoke out against the latter. And not only that; it is said that bolsters were chucked at Naik, making the situation worse. The incident took place in early 1993. Later, Naik resigned and Pawar returned as CM in March the same year.
Naik, a seasoned politician, did not forget the incident. He insisted that the legislators who insulted him during the meeting not be given party tickets for the next elections, held in 1995.
People such as Maharudra Mote, Dilip Walse Patil and Bharat Bondre escaped the action taken by the party leadership, mainly due to the strong defence put up by Pawar himself. But Dilip Sopal had to contest the 1995 state assembly election as an independent.
The July 9 show of gross indiscipline by seven or eight legislators could have been prevented had Maharashtra Pradesh Congress chief Manikrao Thakre intervened immediately. But he did it only after Prithviraj Chavan’s leadership had been challenged. It’s an open secret that Thakre has been eyeing the CM’s post for some time now and with Mohan Prakash as the AICC’s state in-charge, he perhaps sees a chance of realising his dream as the two are known to be close.
The real reason behind the party men’s grouse against Prithviraj Chavan is that he is simply refusing to accede to unwarranted and unreasonable demands made by them. His close supporters say most of the pleas were to sanction local works to please the contractors’ lobby that has been running the show at most places. They take up road construction and irrigation projects, inflate the estimates to fill their coffers and make the state poorer.
The Congress has decided to nominate only three members instead of four for the MLC polls on July 25. All the 11 candidates who have filed nominations for the Maharashtra Legislative Council polls are set to get elected unopposed. Outgoing Congress MLC Ulhas Pawar, a supporter of former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, failed to get a nomination. If he too had been nominated, it would have then entailed a contest since the Congress has the numbers to get three elected comfortably, but will need the support of independents for a fourth candidate. Sources say, Industries Minister Narayan Rane was in favour of putting up a fourth candidate and ensuring his win by defeating the Shiv Sena nominee. But, once again the tacit understanding between the Congress and the Sena worked, say party men.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY