In an indication that the BJP-led Maharashtra government’s honeymoon may be coming to an end in the state legislature, erstwhile allies the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party on Sunday finally put up a united front as the Opposition.
The two parties met nearly all day long; first to discuss strategy and then to plan floor management. The aim: an all-out attack on the BJP-led government from the first day of the three-week-long monsoon session beginning on Monday.
This is the first time since they were trounced in the Assembly polls last year that the Congress and the NCP will team up in the state legislature. During the last two sittings — the winter session in December and the budget session in March — the divide between the leading Opposition parties was evident.
For the Devendra Fadnavis-led government, a united Opposition could spell more trouble just when it has hit a low. Further, the BJP’s ally, the Shiv Sena, continues to play a contrarian role, often criticising the government at the Centre and in the state.
Sources in both the parties said that the decision to work together was taken around 10 days ago, after Congress state president Ashok Chavan called up NCP chief Sharad Pawar, asking for his party’s cooperation, specifically on farmers suicides, the plight of sugarcane growers and allegations of corruption against BJP ministers.
Both the parties have been buoyed by their success in the recent zilla parishad polls in Vidarbha, which the BJP had swept during the Assembly elections. But this time the Congress captured Bhandara and the NCP Gondia.
“We initiated talks with the NCP 10-15 day backs to have a joint opposition strategy. The NCP is committed to opposing the government on these issues. Even though we are in a minority, we make up a formidable number together in the assembly and are in a majority in the legislative council. We held talks with senior NCP leaders and they have committed to opposing the government on all these issues,” said Chavan.
Sunday’s meetings were attended by senior Congress leaders such as Manikrao Thakre and Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and by NCP brasss such as Ajit Pawar, Sunil Tatkare, and Dilip Walse Patil.
Sharpening its attack on the government, the Congress-NCP, which also got smaller opposition parties on board, in a joint press conference on Sunday afternoon threatened to disrupt the functioning of the assembly till ministers accused of corruption resigned and boycotted the customary pre-session tea party. The Congress-NCP has been joined by the Samajwadi Party, the AIMIM and the People’s Republican Party. They demanded a Special Investigation Team probe into the alleged `chikki scam’ against women and child development minister Pankaja Munde, besides the alleged manipulation of educational qualifications by school education minister Vinod Tawde and water supplies minister Babanrao Loniker.
The opponents also came down heavily on Fadnavis for giving a clean chit to these ministers. “The chief minister should have conducted the inquiry but here we are seeing that Fadnavis is just giving clean chits to his ministers,” said Dhananjay Munde, Leader of the Opposition in the legislative council.
Fadnavis, however told media, “We are prepared to take on any questions by the Opposition on the floor of the House. They should discuss issues constructively. There are no issues between Sena and BJP.” The bonhomie evident in the opposition camp was markedly absent in the ruling ranks. Though Shiv Sena ministers and senior party leaders were present at the time of the Fadnavis’ press conference, there hasn’t been any clear strategy or floor management talks between the two allies.
The Congress-NCP has a clear majority in the Legislative Council with 49 members as opposed to the BJP-Sena’s 19. This can enable them to obstruct any legislation that the BJP-led government wants to clear. The BJP government is keen on passing 15 bills in this session. In the assembly, the BJP-Sena has a clear majority (184 MLAs) but even with just 82 MLAs, the Congress-NCP combine has more experience in the legislature and can effectively stall proceedings.