The weekly meeting of the state cabinet turned stormy on Wednesday when Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders had an altercation over Congress spokesperson Hussain Dalwai’s allegations against the NCP.
Dalwai had on Tuesday said that the NCP had orchestrated the communal riots in Sangli in September 2009 to win the Assembly polls there. Senior NCP ministers launched a scathing attack on Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and sought explanation from him over his party colleague’s statement. Sources said an apologetic Chavan told the NCP leaders that it was inappropriate of Dalwai to make such objectionable comments.
The meeting witnessed trading of charges from both sides after Congress ministers pointed out that the debate over Sangli riots started due to fight between two NCP ministers —R.R. Patil and Jayant Patil —both of whom are from Sangli. Ministers who attended the meeting said Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and Water Resources Minister Ajit Pawar led the charge against the Congress.
They asked the Congress to adhere to the rules of the alliance. Home Minister R.R. Patil also pitched in with some caustic comments, sources said. “NCP ministers wondered why the Congress continued to have an alliance with a party that, according to some Congress leaders, was a non-secular force that caused communal riots,” said a senior minister requesting anonymity.
Chavan later told journalists that there were some issues between the partners that were discussed during Wednesday’s meeting. “But what transpired [in the meeting] is not for public consumption,” he said. Chavan convened a meeting of senior ministers from both parties immediately after the cabinet meet where the Sangli riots and the Best Five fiasco were discussed.
Sources said Chavan pulled up R.R. Patil and NCP MP Supriya Sule for making public comments against the government’s decision to introduce the Best Five system.
He expressed displeasure with them for ridiculing the Education department that the Congress heads. The Sangli riots case assumes political significance for the NCP because its local worker and ex-mayor Moinuddin Bagwan was named by then Superintendent of Police Krishna Prakash as the prime suspect.
The issue also smacks of feud within the NCP between R.R. Patil and party colleague, Rural Development Minister Jayant Patil. Bagwan is close to Jayant Patil, who was the home minister when the Sangli-Miraj riots took place.
Prakash, meanwhile, is R.R. Patil’s blue-eyed boy. Dalwai’s allegations irked the NCP, which is dodging questions about its merger with the Congress after senior NCP leader Ratnakar Mahajan raised the issue. State Congress chief Manikrao Thakre reiterated that Dalwai’s comment was his personal opinion.