Sonia Gandhi(PTI)
Sonia Gandhi(PTI)

Sonia Gandhi’s letter to Uddhav Thackeray brings unease between Congress-NCP to the fore

A day after Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray asking him to fulfil promises made to socially backward classes, the unease between Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was visible even as the Congress insisted that Gandhi’s letter should be seen as dialogue and not confrontation
By Swapnil Rawal, Mumbai
UPDATED ON DEC 20, 2020 05:25 AM IST

A day after Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray asking him to fulfil promises made to socially backward classes, the unease between Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was visible even as the Congress insisted that Gandhi’s letter should be seen as dialogue and not confrontation. On the other hand, Congress on Saturday launched an attack against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), accusing the party of working against the interests of backward classes. Significantly, the three ruling partners, Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, have decided to contest elections to gram panchayats in January separately, although Thackeray had earlier announced that the ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) will contest all local polls together as a coalition.

The letter from Gandhi, which made the fissures in MVA visible, came at a time when there is unease in the Congress over the way the government is being run. Most Congress leaders in the state think that the government is being run by Thackeray and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, and that Congress doesn’t have any scope to decide policies of the government.

Congress leaders in the past have expressed unhappiness over the lack of funds provided to local bodies controlled by the Congress.

More recently, energy minister Nitin Raut’s proposal to provide relief to consumers on inflated electricity bills was shot down by the finance department headed by deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar as the state’s financial condition was precarious to allow to let go of 60,000 crore in pending bills.

A senior Congress leader said, “For the past few months, our ministers such as Ashok Chavan and Vijay Vadettiwar have publicly expressed unhappiness over funding of certain schemes or plans or even local bodies where our party is in power.” He added, “It is no coincidence that the state finance department is headed by NCP’s Ajit Pawar.”

NCP minister and spokesperson Nawab Malik said the letter could be the outcome of a lack of communication within the party or differences between its leaders in the state.

“The functioning of various programmes and schemes of the government is interrupted due to the pandemic and lockdown, which has adversely affected state’s revenue. Its two senior ministers in the government know it. Besides, the tribal development department is headed by a Congress minister. The party’s leaders should have asked the minister what is the reality,” said Malik.

State Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat on Saturday dismissed the opposition’s criticism that Gandhi’s letter indicated that all was not well with the government and it is dysfunctional. Thorat, the revenue minister in the Sena-led MVA government, said that the letter was a dialogue and not a sign of resentment. He also said the Congress would consider the opinion of Ajit Pawar, who is NCP representative in MVA’s coordination committee, and not Malik’s.

While Thackeray has not reacted to the letter yet, Sena has welcomed the same and said that the points in the CMP (common minimum programme) will be implemented gradually in the coming year of the government.

Thorat said, “Congress’s stand has always been in favour of the upliftment of the poor and deprived sections of the society and Gandhi’s letter was part of a dialogue on how welfare measures can be taken. There is no resentment,’’ he said. ‘’A CMP for the welfare of different sections of the society is the agenda of the MVA and Uddhav Thackeray is working in that direction. Some issues might have gone on the back-burner due to the pandemic. But the government is slowly getting back on track and focusing on the CMP,’’ Thorat added.

Sena chief spokesperson Sanjay Raut denied that there is any “pressure politics” by the Congress on the MVA government as the media is speculating. Speaking to reporters on Saturday in Mumbai, Raut said, “If the Congress party has brought forward an agenda, which is in the interest of people of Maharashtra and the state, then it should be welcomed. There are no pressure politics.”

Meanwhile, the MVA allies, who tasted electoral success in the recently held legislative council elections, are not going to contest the upcoming elections of 14,234 gram pachayats in an alliance. Thackeray had said that the three parties will contest all local body elections in an alliance, but on Saturday, the Sena boss told party functionaries that the party will put candidates in almost all the gram panchayats and asked them to win maximum gram panchayats. A similar stand to bag most gram panchayat seats was taken by Thorat, while NCP state president Jayant Patil said the party never gives ticket to candidates, indicating that there will be no alliance.

The gram panchayat elections are slated for January 15, and all the four political parties are gearing up for the local polls to see their individual strength and acceptability after the shift in the political dynamic that happened in November 2019 with the formation of MVA. Of the over 28,000 gram panchayats, elections to 14,234 of them in 34 districts were announced by the State Election Commission last week.

The gram panchayat elections are not fought on party symbol but by forming a panel at the local level.

“We are going to ensure that Congress controls most number of gram panchayat and we are confident that the Congress will get big success at the gram panchayat level,” Thorat said in a statement. Patil, meanwhile, said, “No party, and particularly NCP, does not contest gram panchayat on a party ticket and therefore parties contesting gram panchayat polls does not arise.”

Thackeray has been holding meeting with party functionaries for the past three days over the preparation for the polls. He met with Sena district presidents and directed them to win maximum number of gram panchayats. At a meeting with deputy leaders and sampark pramukhs of the party held on Saturday at his official resident Varsha, Thackeray told them to take the work carried out by the Uddhav Thackeray-led government to the people in villages.

A senior functionary, who was present in the meeting said, “Uddhav ji has said that the party will put up candidates on mostly all 14,000 odd gram panchayat. His instructions to all district president and contact heads was to convey work done by government during Nisarg cyclone and other natural calamities that struck the state. He has directed us to win maximum gram panchayats.”

Meanwhile, addressing a press conference in Nagpur, state energy minister and chairman of AICC SC cell,, Nitin Raut insisted that the Congress president’s letter was indication of the party’s social agenda. He said Gandhi’s “revolutionary letter” will act as the guiding factor for the welfare of SC/ST communities and other backward classes under the CMP of the ruling alliance in the state.

Raut trained guns at the BJP government in the Centres and the previous state government and said, “BJP governments in state and at the Centre have been conspiring to deny chances to backward classes in jobs and self employment.”

He further added, “The road to progress of SC/ST and backward classes was hindered by the BJP. When the Dalit and backward classes became IAS and IFS officers, and came at par with them, they disliked it. When they became business-owners they did not like it. The Central government conducted direct recruitment of officers at joint secretary level. You will not find one person from backward classes.”

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