Maharashtra: BJP-Sena bickering, charges against ministers made news

Bickerings in ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance with the rift many a time on public display, allegations against several ministers, farmers' woes, Yakub Memon hanging and dance bar-related issues dominated headlines in Maharashtra in 2015.

Visits by bigwigs including Prime Minister Narendra Modi to NCP chief Sharad Pawar's home turf Baramati also made news. The Devendra Fadnavis-led government, which completed a year in office on October 31, has been beset with internal squabbles with the Sena, which joined the ministry in December last year.

The rift within the ruling alliance was on public display ahead of the Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation elections. Sena president Uddhav Thackeray then threatened to withdraw support to the government if the BJP does not shed its 'arrogance'.

Fadnavis, in turn, told the Sena not to undermine the BJP and declared that his party was not 'wearing bangles'. Putting behind the rancour of the bitterly-fought election, Sena and BJP later decided to share power in the civic body following a hung verdict.

In October, amid the widening rift between the ruling allies, the Shiv Sena stayed away from Modi's functions in Mumbai including the 'bhoomipujan' for the international memorial for Babasaheb Ambedkar and the ground-breaking for two Metro railwaylines. Thackeray, cold-shouldered by the BJP for the functions - his name was missing from the initial official list of dignitaries attending the event - chose to visit Beed in drought-affected Marathwada, where the party disbursed aid to distressed farmers.

In February, Pawar invited Modi to Baramati in western Maharashtra, fuelling speculation in political circles and followed it up eight months later by hosting Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at his home. While Modi had attacked Pawar during Maharashtra elections last year and called the NCP the 'Naturally Corrupt Party,' the February visit sparked off a new bonhomie where the prime minister sang a different tune.

Calling Pawar an experienced leader, he said, "I speak to Sharad Pawar more than two times a month. Sharad Pawar has always thought of farmers plight." Jaitley, who attended a series of functions at Baramati and Pune, even stayed overnight at Pawar's Govind Baug residence near Baramati. Modi also attended a grand celebration in the national capital on the occasion of Pawar turning 75 and lauded the NCP chief's political acumen.

The bickering among the ruling alliance partners apparently delayed the expansion of the state cabinet, with the tussle between BJP-Shiv Sena combine mainly stemming from the Sena's demand for cabinet berths. When Sena joined the government, the strength of the Fadnavis ministry increased from 10 to 30. At present, there are 20 ministers from BJP and 10 from Sena.

The acrimony between Sena and BJP continued as the Winter Session of the state legislature began at Nagpur on December 7, when the Sena staged vociferous protests against Advocate General Shrihari Aney over his remarks on the issue of separate statehood to Vidarbha, and sought his suspension.

Some Congress and Shiv Sena MLCs sought his resignation over his remarks during a book release function. Two statements made by Aney drew the ire of supporters of the 'United Maharashtra' movement. The first was that the central government should hold a referendum on Vidarbha and if 51 per cent or more people support it then statehood should be granted. The second was that 105 people who had been martyred in January 1960 had not died for keeping Vidarbha in Maharashtra but only to keep Mumbai in the state.

Women and Child Welfare Minister Pankaja Munde was in June accused of involvement in a scam related to the award of contracts worth Rs 206 crore for purchasing items for state-run schools. Later, Education Minister Vinod Tawde was accused of irregularities in awarding contracts, with authorities seeking a probe into allegations that his department finalised a Rs 191-crore contract without mandatory e-tendering.

The Opposition also accused Tawde of having a fake engineering degree. Raising the issues in state legislature, Opposition demanded the resignation of Pankaja and Tawde. Congress in June alleged that Water Supply Minister Babanrao Lonikar has two wives, but in his affidavit before the Election Commission has submitted the name of only one. Minister of State for Home Ranjit Patil also faced allegations by the Opposition that he had under-reported property details in an election affidavit.

In March, Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan landed in trouble for attending a school function armed with a revolver tucked in his waist.

On the third death anniversary of Sena founder Bal Thackeray in November, Fadnavis announced a memorial for the late Sena supremo in what was seen as a major thaw in relations with BJP's junior ally in the state. It was a disappointing year for former chief minister and senior Congress leader Narayan Rane, who lost the Assembly poll last year from Kankavali constituency in Sindhudurg district to Sena's Vaibhav Naik. Rane contested the Bandra Assembly bypoll in April but even his comeback attempt failed.

As the year drew to a close, his hopes of getting a back-door entry in the legislature were dashed as he was not given Congress ticket for the Legislative Council elections, scheduled to be held later this month. Memon, convicted as "a driving spirit" for the 1993 blasts in Mumbai, was hanged on July 30 at Nagpur Central Jail. Police ensured that there was no law and order issue during his burial in Mumbai the same day.

Rationalist Govind Pansare was killed in February. Seven months later, police nabbed a full-time volunteer of the right wing organisation Sanatan Sanstha in the murder case.

Congress and NCP, which shared power for 15 years since 1999, have not been effective in putting the government on the mat during legislature sessions.

Congress got a new chief of the state unit in March, when former chief minister Ashok Chavan, who was in spotlight due to his alleged involvement in the Adarsh scam, was appointed as MPCC president. In last year's Lok Sabha elections, Congress won only two out of the 48 seats in Maharashtra, with Chavan being one of the winners. Hailing from Marathwada, he is the son of former Congress chief minister Shankarrao Chavan.

Senior NCP leader R R Patil, former deputy chief minister, passed away in February at 57 while being treated for cancer. Patil, six-term MLA from Tasgaon in Sangli district, was among the longest-serving home ministers of Maharashtra and was also one of the most powerful ministers in the Congress-led coalition that ruled the state till last year.

He was also the man behind the controversial decision to ban dance bars in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra. A decade after Patil shut down dance bars, his daughter Smita has decided to carry forward the mission of her late father, after the Supreme Court last month ordered the Maharashtra government to start issuing licences for re-opening of dance bars within two weeks.

Fadnavis had said that though the government respects the Supreme Court order, it was principally against reopening the dance bars and assured all legal options will be examined. In September, senior BJP leader Ram Kapse passed away at 82. He was a former Lt. Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and represented Thane in the 9th and 10th Lok Sabha. Former Bihar and Kerala Governor and senior Republican Party of India (RPI) leader R S Gavai, 86, passed away in July.

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