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Rahul Gandhi, Uddhav Thackeray speak amid ‘rift’ buzz

Former Cong chief expresses solidarity with govt; Thackeray says Cong equally important coalition partner
By Surendra P Gangan, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 27, 2020 11:40 PM IST

Wednesday saw hectic political activity to end the speculation over stability of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.

A day after his comment that the “Congress was only supporting the government and was not a key decision-maker in the ruling coalition”, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi spoke with chief minister Uddhav Thackeray over the phone and expressed solidarity with the government. Thackeray, too, assured him the Congress was an equally important coalition partner. Soon after, key ministers from the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi – Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress – held a joint marathon meeting at the chief minister’s official bungalow, Varsha.

Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar chaired the meeting, which was attended by senior ministers Jayant Patil, Subhash Desai, Balasaheb Thorat, Anil Parab, Varsha Gaikwad and Aslam Shaikh. CM Thackeray did not attend the meeting. Later, the three parties put up a united front with revenue minister and state Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat, water resources minister and state NCP chief Jayant Patil and parliamentary affairs minister Anil Parab (Shiv Sena) addressing a press conference to reply to the allegations made by Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday.

Gandhi had, in a press conference on Tuesday, compared the party’s governments in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh to Maharashtra and said there was a difference between running a government and supporting it. It had set the rumour mills abuzz and also upset the other ruling partners, pushing Shiv Sena and Congress leaders into damage-control mode.

“Sena MP Sanjay Raut spoke to Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala, after which a call was arranged between Gandhi and Sena minister and CM’s son Aaditya Thackeray on Tuesday evening. This was followed by the call between Thackeray and Gandhi on Wednesday morning,” a senior Congress leader said.

According to MVA insiders, Gandhi told Thackeray that his government was doing a good job to combat the pandemic, despite the difficulties the state was facing. “The air was cleared over the speculation after Gandhiji’s statement in the press conference. The Congress leader clarified his statement was blown out of proportion,” a Shiv Sena leader said. Gandhi also explained his stance, maintaining how he has been categorically stating how important Maharashtra is and it should be given more importance in the fight against Covid-19.

In the MVA meeting which lasted for three hours, the leaders discussed various issues, including the strategy for gradual lifting of the lockdown and preparations to combat Covid-19 in Mumbai. “Chief secretary Ajoy Mehta and other officers made a presentation on the current status of Covid-19 cases in Mumbai and other parts. We discussed the strategy for gradual relaxation of lockdown in red zones after May 31 and narrowing down the size of containment zones further. A few more commercial activities are likely to be allowed in cities like Mumbai from next week,” said Shaikh.

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