A week is a long time in politics, goes the popular wisdom. At least twists and turns in Maharashtra politics in the past week was a grim reminder that more things change , they remain the same .This is in reference to the feckless nature of politics of coalition partners of ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi(MVA) in the state. After being in power for nearly 19 months one of the allies– the Congress– at one moment was heard promising to go it alone in 2024 Lok Sabha / assembly elections and in the next breath was found making desperate attempts to underscore that the ruling coalition was bound to complete five years in office . The party even went on to assure that the coalition would survive only because it had been stitched up under express orders of Congress President Sonia Gandhi in November 2019 post elections to stop BJP from coming to power.
The Congress top leadership somehow seemed to become so anxious about maintaining stability of its MVA Government that it even ended up summoning Pradesh Congress Committee chief Nana Patole to Delhi and asking him to pipe down his talk of ” strengthening Congress”. AICC-in charge H.K. Patil who talked it out with Patole deemed it necessary to convey a message to Aghadi leaders that the Congress was keen on sustaining the Government in Mumbai at any cost.
For reason best known to it, the Grand Old Party preferred a hobbled , moribund version of itself in Maharashtra even if that meant the party could remain in power in Mumbai in a rag-tag coalition with whatever crumbs/ spoils of office Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray were willing to share with it. The once powerful Congress reconciled itself to a second class political partnership, preferring not to rake up any contentious issue such as filling up of the Speaker’s post– that it had vacated early this year– as it was felt it may upset allies like the Shiv Sena or the NCP. Chief Minister Thackeray has apparently been livid with the unilateral decision taken by the Congress early this year to make Patole as PCC chief . This one decision had forced Patole to vacate his Speaker’s post. As of now , Uddhav Thackeray Government fears it would be risking a trial of numbers on the floor of Maharashtra Assembly at this juncture if a fresh Speaker election were to be held.
In its eagerness not to upset Maharashtra power equation, the Congress high command ignored petty power play indulged by NCP supremo Pawar in Delhi exactly on this day a week ago. The decision to ignore it seemed to be a wise move as the rendezvous turned out to be a non-starter– a gathering of politically insignificant people . Eventually by weekend , Pawar was found making conciliatory noises towards the Congress; he was found conceding that there could be no Opposition front without the Congress to take on the BJP nationally. This Pawar quip must be enough to satisfy bruised Congress egos. In the final analysis , the only purpose of Pawar hosting a Rashtriya Manch meet seemed to generate headlines as back home in Maharashtra the timing of the Delhi event seemed to divert attention from ED crackdown on those close to the NCP.
As for formidable OBC leader Nana Patole, he is now being increasingly viewed more as a problem than a solution by the State Congress unit. Essentially a motor-mouth and in a great hurry to fulfil his goals, Patole apparently makes his bullish , aggressive statements too often. ” If Patole makes his statements once in a while to enthuse Congress workers, it is okay. But as a PCC chief , he is seen making it every other day. One cannot possibly be talking of ” going solo in polls” when we are in a coalition. Chief Minister Thackeray, we have been told, was quite upset with Patole’s utterances. That’s why he was asked by Delhi to take it easy, ” points out a state Congress leader. Shiv Sena’s worry was not just about Patole’s bullish campaign but his overall plans to help the Congress regain its footprints in Mumbai ahead of civic polls next year. So peeved was the CM that he even went on to remind that political parties will be “greeted with footwear” if they do not concern themselves with people’s issues .
Congress sources say Patole was handpicked by Rahul Gandhi only because as a BJP Lok Sabha MP( from Bhandara defeating Praful Patel in 2014) he used to be openly questioning PM Narendra Modi. Rahul liked him for his critical approach. Viewed as being close to Nitin Gadkari , Patole felt free to take potshots at the PM. But now as PCC chief he is proving to be quite tactless and appears not quite the right choice for the job . Along with the PCC, Patole is apparently even pushing for a ministerial berth to help him ” run ” PCC.
On his part Patole remains unfazed by media stories that he has been asked to lie low for now . He is happy that his work in the party has already made Aghadi allies feel the heat . He is happy that the Congress in Maharashtra is buzzing and active in the past few months that he has been at the helm.” The Congress will be very visible in the upcoming elections . As for Mumbai civic elections, let us not forget Shiv Sena came to power in the BMC only because two factions of the Congress were fighting each other, ” he recalls .
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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