While the Congress and NCP may have parted ways, they seem united in their aversion to questions about their 15-year rule in Maharashtra.
Former CM Prithviraj Chavan and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar in better times. File pic
Leaders of both parties abruptly ended their press conferences yesterday, which they had called to release their respective manifestoes, when journalists began asking them uncomfortable questions about how they would fulfil certain promises which they couldn’t live up to in 15 years of running the state. Coincidentally, leaders of both parties ended the press conferences with a brusque ‘thank you’.
The NCP released its manifesto at 2 pm, two hours before the Congress. Assembly speaker Dilip Walse-Patil, who headed the NCP manifesto committee, former home minister R R Patil, ex-minister Sachin Ahir and state NCP chief Sunil Tatkare were among the senior leaders who did the unveiling.
The manifesto promises free wi-fi to colleges, free laptops to every student who clears the HSC exam, airports and air connectivity in all important cities in the state, pension for marginal farmers and farm labourers, and that the party would reserve 10 acres of land for police housing in Mumbai. The Sharad Pawar-led party also promised fair treatment to north Indians living in Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Thane and surrounding areas.
On the defensive
The first question that sent NCP leaders on the defensive was about the free laptops. When the leaders were asked whether the laptops would be given free irrespective of the income group the student came from and whether that would not go against former Dy CM Ajit Pawar’s view that nothing should be given free, the party’s state unit chief Sunil Tatkare clarified that the laptops would be given to students who are not part of the creamy layer as prescribed in reservation for different categories.
Later, when the leaders were asked why there was no word on transparent and clean governance in the manifesto despite a majority of the NCP ministers being accused of involvement in scams and corruption, Tatkare seemed irritated and said, “We are committed to that and have provided clean and transparent government”. He then aprubtly ended the press conference with a ‘thank you’, which led to a brief commotion at the venue.
Cong follows suit
The Congress released its manifesto at the party’s Gandhi Bhavan office, which is a stone’s throw away from the NCP office. The leaders present for the conference included MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre, former CMs Prithviraj Chavan and Sushilkumar Shinde, Rajya Sabha MPs Bhalchandra Mungekar and Hussain Dalwai and Peoples Republican Party chief Prof Jogendra Kawade.
The Congress manifesto promises the shutting of the five toll nakas at Mumbai’s entry points, equal tariff for power supply across Mumbai city and suburban areas, coastal road and water transport, a sea world in Konkan, and free tablets to Std IX students from poor families. It also talks about providing wi-fi connectivity at colleges, without specifying whether it would be free, and creating a special police force to curb the of kidnapping of little girls.
On the toll issue, former CM Chavan was asked how his party was going to shut down five toll nakas when the government under him had failed to stop toll collection at Kolhapur and elsewhere despite violent agitations by locals. Chavan said toll was a broad issue and that they needed to find out how the toll points were approved and whether they were justifiable in the backdrop of rules framed by the Centre.
“Despite this, we decided to close 43 toll nakas,” said Chavan. When a journalist pointed out that not all of those toll collection points had been shut, Chavan said the process takes time. Later, Sushilkumar Shinde, who headed the party manifesto committee and is also a former CM, was asked about the promise made in the manifesto that 5% of the annual budget would be set aside for the welfare of nomadic tribes.
Shinde was asked why such a promise was needed again when the Congress-NCP government under him had promised a similar provision in 2004. He was asked what happened to provision then, and whether the Congress-led government had failed to ensure overall development of the tribes.
A visibly irritated Shinde said that students from nomadic tribes and other categories could now pursue higher studies abroad thanks to state schemes and that land had also been disbursed to needy families. Then, he suddenly said thank you and declared that the press conference was over. This left media persons aghast, as ex-CM Chavan had promised to reply to questions about former deputy CM Ajit Pawar’s allegations against him.