Maharashtra Pradesh Congress president Manikrao Thakre recently referred to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) as a party of goons, an appellation generally reserved for the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
Perhaps he was thinking of Baba Bodke, a notified criminal from Pune who was admitted to the NCP some years ago among much fanfare with Sharad Pawar’s nephew, Ajit Pawar, felicitating the man in a big way and publicly stating, “We need such men to build our party.'”
The outrage that followed compelled the NCP to then ask Borde to voluntarily quit, quietly. Ever since it has been obvious that at least Pawar’s nephew is not beyond walking on the wrong side of the street to gather clout within his party to help him emerge as the undisputed leader in both his party and in Maharashtra.
Of course, Pawar’s own way of dealing with such speed breakers in the alliance is way above how lesser leaders in the NCP are able to tackle such issues. In reply to Thakre’s comment he merely said: “If we are really such goons, then why is the Congress in an alliance with us? They should cease all ties with the NCP.”
However, Thakre’s counterpart in the NCP Madhukarrao Pichad, perhaps not satisfied with Pawar’s civil but seemingly tame response, paid the Congress back in the same coin by describing chief minister Prithviraj Chavan as a “wimp” and ineffective, implying that Chavan was unfit to be CM.
Ties should have been strained and their government endangered but Chavan seemingly did not take Pichad seriously and smoothed over the wrinkles by stating that the Congress and the NCP are allies; they will stay allies and will also go to the next polls together.
Manikrao Thakre perhaps jumped the gun and went ballistic about the NCP in a bid to earn some brownie points with the senior leaders in Delhi. It is not an unknown fact that Congress leaders in Delhi have always wanted their chief ministers in Maharashtra to contain Pawar and the NCP, though without breaking their ties with that party. A succession of the best men in the Congress have tried to achieve that goal but only the late Vilasrao Deshmukh had some limited success when he fought back in 2009 to stop the NCP from conning his own party to run away with more seats than it deserved during both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in 2009.
Now Chavan might seem like a wimp to most — even Congress MLAs do not support their own CM for the fear that he is not a winner at grassroots elections — but no one has quite succeeded in tying Pawar’s hands and bringing the NCP to heel as Chavan has.
With a simple suggestion that he would bring out a white paper on irrigation where a Rs. 70,000- crore scam seems to have happened under the watch of Pawar’s nephew, he has, in one stroke, weakened the Maratha strongman's position forever and nothing more is needed to bring the NCP to heel as Congressmen should now begin to realise.
It is true that Chavan has been under attack from his own partymen who are afraid they will lose the next elections as the wheels at Mantralaya seem to be turning very slowly but Chavan’s systems now seem to have begun to work surely. In an atmosphere where the nation is in no mood to condone corruption, bar some builders who benefit more through bribery and a handful who can no longer buy their way out of Chavan’s systems, the mood among the people is one of appreciation for how the CM has been standing like a rock against corrupt practices in his own government.
It is true, though, that he is not a grassroots politician and has been losing several local self-government elections even on his own home turf. Perhaps the fears of his own party MLAs are justified for, with the passing of Deshmukh, the Congress has lost its best campaigner in Maharashtra, and they are afraid of what the future might hold.
However, in a season where the BJP is fractious, the Sena is troubled and the NCP is losing the battle of perception among the masses, it might be too early to write Chavan off as a wimp and a non-performer. Or even a non-winner.
Chavan, after all, rules by honest means. And is that not what the people of this nation want?