Tightrope walk for Prithviraj Chavan

Ravikiran DeshmukhLAST Monday this column predicted the state would soon be witness to high drama involving ruling Democratic Front partners Congress and NCP (‘Fierce political battles ahead’, September 24). It dwelt on the attempts by the coalition partners to outmanoeuvre each other. The very next day, NCP strongman Ajit Pawar shot off his letter of resignation from the post of deputy chief minister to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, sending the government as well as the Congress and the NCP into a tizzy.

Pawar’s move stunned the CM, so much so that he did not forward the resignation letter to Governor K Sankaranarayanan for five days. This happened even when it was clear that the decision made by Pawar was final, since along with his resignation he had asked the CM to allocate the two departments held by him — Finance and Planning, and Energy — to his party colleagues Jayant Patil and Rajesh Tope.

Now, there will be no post of deputy CM in the government, as announced by the NCP. The resignation and subsequent developments do not augur well for the Chavan-led government, with the relationship between the Congress and the NCP having soured like never before. The NCP has also not announced who will be its in-charge minister to assist Chavan in running the government smoothly.

It is important to note that Ajit Pawar will continue to be the leader of the NCP legislature party comprising MLAs and MLCs, for whom his word will be final on everything from coalition matters to the party stand in the state legislature on supporting or opposing a particular bill or motion. This way Ajit Pawar holds in his hands the key to the survival of the coalition government.

As Chavan is the leader of the Congress legislature party, it is imperative that he be in regular touch with Ajit Pawar for the smooth conduct of the DF government. Given the fact that Ajit Pawar was not available on the phone or in person for over a week, it will be interesting to see how the heads of the two parties work together.

The bitterness between the two parties is set to dog the coalition. In the absence of a deputy CM, Chavan will be held solely responsible for the decisions of the government.

If the CM wants to consult a senior minister from the NCP for the smooth passage of cabinet decisions, there is PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal. But Bhujbal will have to get the green signal for everything from Ajit Pawar.

It should be kept in mind that Ajit Pawar enjoys the support of a majority of the NCP legislators, and this lot can create trouble for the government.
Besides, Chavan is not very popular among Congress MLAs, as most of them are unhappy with his clean governance and strict refusal for personal favours.

Pawar supporters say he was unhappy working with Chavan. Some even allege Chavan was working overtime to corner the NCP as he considered it the number one threat for the growth of the Congress.

On the crucial issue of the white paper on irrigation, the NCP had argued that there should be no delay in making it public. But the Congress has delayed it with the aim of projecting Ajit Pawar, Sunil Tatkare and others in the NCP as the ones responsible for the maladies in the department.
According to the NCP, the white paper will bring out a clear picture of the funds made available for irrigation projects, their utilisation, the land that came under irrigation, water storage and its utilisation for agriculture, drinking purposes and the industrial sector. The party claims the cost escalation in the projects is mainly due to non-availability of government funds on time.

On the issue of corruption, the NCP remains defiant despite the fact that it is common knowledge how project costs were increased and how advance payments were made to select contractors.

Despite the NCP pressure tactics, Chavan may not desist from taking tough decisions. One should not be surprised if a decision is taken to hand over specific matters of corruption in the irrigation department to the CBI. For that, the NCP’s consent will not be required as, according to norms, the chief minister can order a CBI inquiry where funds from the Centre’s kitty are involved — the Union government has made available vast funds for projects such as Gosekhurd in east Vidarbha. But before all that, Prithviraj Chavan will first have to walk the political tightrope to keep the government intact.

The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY 

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