The fragile peace between the Congress and NCP once again ruptured last week – this time over the removal of Arup Patnaik as Mumbai police commissioner.
While Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan was not keen on transferring Patnaik, under fire for his handling of the August 11 riots at Mumbai's Azad Maidan, the NCP wanted him out at "any cost".
However, a phone call from union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar to Chavan sealed his fate on Thursday. The next day, Chavan rushed to Delhi to inform Congress chief Sonia Gandhi about the row.
The Patnaik episode fractured a month of tenuous calm, which had prevailed between the two partners following the NCP's threat to pull out of the UPA over the Congress's "unilateral approach in decision making".
The two have shared an uneasy alliance ever since they came together to form the government in Maharashtra in 1999, and then at the Centre from 2004. While the NCP has accused the Congress of violating the 'coalition dharma' and lambasted it for fuel hikes, the latter has tried to shift the blame for price rise on Pawar — even targeting him over the Lavasa project near Pune.
The Opposition has also tried to exploit the differences between the two.
Officially, leaders from both sides maintain that everything is hunky dory between them. "Our relationship is special in many senses," said NCP general secretary DP Tripathi. "What we have always wanted was effective and coordinated functioning of the coalition at the Centre and state."
The Congress leadership sounded equally amorous in its description of the NCP. Said Mohan Prakash, the party's Maharashtra in-charge, "NCP is our trusted ally….the alliance has successfully withstood the test of time."