Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan triggered a slugfest with the Congress partner in the state, union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, saying on Friday that his party should have retained the crucial home ministry.
Answering questions on security failures following Wednesday’s Mumbai blasts, Chavan told a TV channel: “We should have re-looked at it. I don't know of any other coalition government where the portfolios of home, finance and planning are not with the chief minister.”
“This was a division agreed to by us in 1999 when the Congress-NCP combine first came to power in the state. That pattern was based on the model adopted by the Shiv Sena-BJP government during 1995-99,” he said.
Later, he clarified in an exclusive interview with HT: “My opinion was twisted and applied to the current situation. I have full confidence in the home minister (RR Patil) and we are handling the situation the best we can.”But the NCP’s state unit president Madhukar Pichad retorted, “The Congress can just tell us they don’t want an alliance, instead of making such statements. We can go on our own.”
He said, “When the arrangement was made in 1999, the Congress high command had requested us to work together. We then had offers from the saffron combine, but Mr Pawar decided to go with a like-minded party. There will not be a rethink on this formula.”
The chief minister’s comment touched a raw nerve, as the reference to the home portfolio hits Patil, who was home minister also during the November 26, 2008 Mumbai attacks and had to quit just after the massacre.
What’s more, Chavan clearly showed his discomfort with having the NCP controlling the purse-strings. The finance and planning portfolios are held by deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar.
The NCP has been part of the Congress-led alliance at the centre since 2004 and in Maharashtra since 1999, but the relationship between the partners have been volatile as they have sparred on many issues in the past, including the rising food prices.
The Congress blamed Pawar on many occasions — though indirectly –— for the spike in food prices. The NCP has retaliated by attacking it on frequent fuel hikes.
“Congress leaders are not losing any chance in attacking ministers from coalition partners on issues for which the entire cabinet is responsible,” a political and economic resolution of the NCP’s youth wing said on Friday.
The war of words, in fact, begun on Thursday, as some Congress ministers such as Narayan Rane targeted Patil over the delay in implementing security reforms.
Patil alleged there had not been any intelligence alert from the Intelligence Bureau during the past few months.
On Friday morning, an SMS was sent to the media, saying Chavan had offered to resign accepting moral responsibility for the blasts in front of Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday evening. Sources in the Congress alleged that the SMS was circulated by a person close to the NCP leadership.