MVA puts up united front in Maharashtra; Rahul Gandhi assures support
A day after Congress leader and former party president Rahul Gandhi’s remark that the party was not “the key decision-maker” in Maharashtra triggered speculation about the fate of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and Gandhi spoke and reiterated their commitment to the alliance.
Separately, key ministers from the three parties in the government — Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress — had an extensive internal meeting and then put up a united front defending the government’s handling of the pandemic.
A person familiar with the communication between the Sena and the Congress said that after Gandhi’s remark on Tuesday — where he had emphasised the importance of Maharashtra, asked for more support from the Centre to the state, but also pointed out that Congress was a supporting party in the government — created a controversy, Sena MP Sanjay Raut and Congress communication cell chief Randeep Singh Surjewala agreed on the need for “damage control”. This was followed by a conversation between Aaditya Thackeray — minister in the Maharashtra government and the CM’s son — and Gandhi on Tuesday itself, leading up to the CM-Gandhi conversation on Wednesday.
According to the person quoted above, Gandhi told the CM that his government was doing a good job to combat the coronavirus pandemic despite the difficulties the state had been confronting.
“The Congress leader clarified that his statement was taken out of context, that he had been categorical in stating the importance of the state, and its centrality in the battle against the pandemic. Gandhi also reiterated that the Congress stood in full support of the government, and that the MVA was capable of handling the pandemic,” a second Shiv Sena leader, familiar with the conversation, said.
The CM, according to the Sena leader, told Gandhi that the Congress was an equal part of decision making in the state, said the leader quoted above.
Separately, key MVA ministers held an extensive meeting at chief minister’s official bungalow, Varsha, on Wednesday. While the CM was not present, the meeting, chaired by deputy CM and NCP leader Ajit Pawar, was attended by senior ministers Jayant Patil, Subhash Desai, Balasaheb Thorat, Anil Parab, Varsha Gaikwad and Aslam Shaikh.
The ministers focused on both steps being taken to handle the pandemic in Mumbai — which accounts for about one-fifth of India’s cases of the coronavirus disease — and a strategy for the gradual relaxations in the lockdown after May 31. The fourth phase of the lockdown ends this Sunday.
“A presentation was made by chief secretary Ajoy Mehta and other officers on the current status of the Covid-19 cases in Mumbai and other parts. We discussed the strategy for gradual relaxations in the lockdown in Red zones after May 31 and how to narrow down the size of the containment zones further. A few more commercial activities are likely to be allowed in cities such as Mumbai from next week,” said minister Aslam Shaikh who attended the meeting.
The three parties then put up a united front publicly, with revenue minister and state Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat, water resources minister and state NCP chief Jayant Patil and parliamentary affairs minister Anil Parab of the Shiv Sena addressing a press conference to counter allegations made by leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday. The former chief minister had attacked the government for its handling of the pandemic.
“To give a rebuttal to my one press conference, so many ministers had to take meetings for hours. If they had held these meetings earlier, the situation in Maharashtra would not been so dire. But, three ministers of MVA came together and gave contradictory information to try and prove me wrong,’’ said former Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis.
He said the ministers claimed several wrongs including that state did not get PPE kits from Centre but the latter has created a dashboard that shows which state got how much. ``As on May 26, 9.88 lakh PPE kits and 16 lakh N 95 masks have been given to Maharashtra. The centre has also given Rs 468 crore to state to purchase such equipment. Also, the ration offered at subsidised rates of Rs 3 and Rs 2 is given by the Centre only and the Union government purchases it at Rs 24 and Rs 32 per kg,’’ he added.