As My Name Is Khan opened on Friday, cracks began to show in the Democratic Front. The Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) engaged in a game of one-upmanship, blaming each other for the Shiv Sena-induced law and order problem.
Maharashtra Congress president Manikrao Thakre said in New Delhi that the Sena’s hands were stengthened by NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s recent visit to Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s house. “The Sena derived its strength from Pawar [the NCP’s R.R. Patil is state home minister],” said Thakre.
Patil countered that there was nothing wrong in Pawar’s visit, reminding the Congress that then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh also visited Thackeray to get the Sena’s support for Pratibha Patil’s nomination to the Presidency. “This is not the first time Pawar met Thackeray. They have cordial relations. When Pratibha Patil was nominated to the President’s post, Deshmukh and I visited Thackeray,” Patil said. He was deputy chief minister then.
NCP state chief Madhukar Pichad termed Thakre’s comment as “immature and plain wrong”. “There must be a protocol in politics. Local politicians should not comment on senior leaders. How will it look if I comment on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi? This was done just to gain some publicity in Delhi, so we ignored the statement,” said Pichad.
Despite the NCP’s denial, speculation was rife that Pawar and Thackeray met to create a political ripple as Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Mumbai had upstaged both parties. The Sena had threatened to disrupt Rahul’s tour while the Congress was targeting Pawar, Union agriculture minister, over food prices.
When the Sena agitation against the film intensified, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan took full control of the police, sidelining Patil under whose jurisdiction the police function. The NCP watched from the sidelines as the controversy over the film turned into a tussle between the Congress and Sena.
Patil sulked for a while but returned to Mumbai on Thursday and made an appearance at a South Mumbai multiplex on Friday. “Patil wanted to show he led the Home Department from the front in taming the Sena,” said a Congress leader requesting anonymity.