The tug of war between the Congress and the NCP appears to have reached a point where Pawar does not seem to be in a mood to bend any further and instead, take the Congress leadership head on.
NCP leaders have already refused attending office, skip government functions and even Union minister Agatha Sangma’s resignation has been obtained and it is likely that the NCP may decide to quit the Union Government and provide external support instead to the ruling UPA. It has already given a two day deadline to the Congress to take a final call on the set of demands failing which it may come out of UPA II and make the Congress position all the more untenable.
Tension in Congress- NCP alliance has been brewing for the past few months with NCP openly accusing the Congress party for side-lining Pawar and targeting the NCP in Maharashtra on a number of issues. But the Congress party continued to downplay the whole thing and at times, shift the blame on Maharashtra Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan as well.
The Congress party, on the other hand has agreed to set up a coordination committee to sort out the difference but that does not seem to be enough to mollify the miffed Pawar as he wants the Congress to ensure a more concrete mechanism to resolve disputes and address the set of pending issues both at Delhi and Maharashtra levels. Such a coordination committee did exist in the past but it has been virtually defunct after Mohan Prakash took over from AK Antony as the AICC general secretary in Charge of Maharashtra.
On the face of it, there are many points where the NCP has been crying foul.
1. The NCP leaders have been blaming that the Congress had hardly functioned like an alliance during the last two years. NCP has always been sidelined and hardly been consulted on political matters and NCP ministers. Besides discharging their Ministerial duties , hardly have any say in UPA II
2. Sharad Pawar’s nominee has not been considered for the post of NABARD Chairman.
3. NCP does not have much representation in national manufacturing Council.
4. NCP minister except Pawar have hardly been given an important portfolio.
5. Pawar has been demanding more allocation for agriculture and water resources but he has not been given a free hand.
6. Out of the total of 182 Empowered Group of ministers, the representation of NCP is meager.
7. There are a plethora of issues with regard to Maharashtra as well where NCP and Congress don’t see eye to eye.
That’s is the reason why Pawar has waited to strike the hardest bargain at the right time and now he seems determined to wrest his pound of flesh from the Congress party. a) He wants better portfolios for himself and Praful Patel and a cabinet berth for his daughter Supriya Sule. b) He wants the post of deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha for Tariq Anwar. c) He wants Lavasa project cleared and FIR in the case pertaining to his daughter Supriya Sule’s Singapore citizenship. d) Shelving of White paper that Maharashtra Chief Minister promised to bring out with regard to irrigation projects scam in which a few NCP MLAS are allegedly involved.
But more than Delhi matters, it is a plethora of issues that has been bothering Sharad Pawar more where NCP leaders seem to be in bigger trouble. Prithviraj Chavan has been a known Pawar baiter and he has been trying his best to squeeze the neck of his deputy Ajit Pawar on any available opportunity.
Among some of the senior NCP ministers in Maharashtra who have been under serious scrutiny include:- a) PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal: It has been alleged that Bhujbal’s relatives received sub contracts for building the new Maharshtra Sadan worth crores. Secondly. Bhujbal’s trust received Rs 5 crore from India Bulls for giving a 4 acre of prime land in Mumbai.
b) Maharashtra irrigation Minister Sunil Tatkare has been under fire in the alleged Rs 1000 crore irrigation scam. Tatkare has been facing allegations of land grab and disproportionate assets.
c) Ajit Pawar, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and nephew of Sharad Pawar has himself been in the line of fire on many issues Opposition demanded that Ajit Pawar’s tenure as irrigation minister between 1999 and 2009 also be probed as part of the alleged Rs 1000 crore irrigation scam. Moreover, Pawar controlled Sangli District Central Cooperative Bank which was dissolved for rampant irregularities and blatant violation of the Banking Regulation Act. In the same way, Maharashtra State Co-operative Bank controlled by Ajit Pawar too was dissolved Above all, Chief Minister Chavan said on record that it was a grave mistake to have given Home portfolio to NCP
However, odds seem to be loaded more against the Congress as far as Maharashtra is concerned because Prithviraj Chavan seems to have trampled more many sore thumbs within his party as well. No wonder then that everyone has started gunning for him. The latest in this series is the gang of 42 Congress MLAS who have written to State Congress Chief Manik Rao Thackeray complaining about Chavan’s style of functioning. While there may be some element of truth in the fact that most of these MLAS could have belonged to the camps of former Chief Ministers Ashok Chavan , Vilakrao Deshmukh and even Narayan Rane yet the fact remains that Prithviraj chavan has been equally unpopular with bureaucracy and the party rank and file as well. It is here that the Congress party may have to eat an humble pie and the hands of Sharad Pawar because that is going to threaten the survival of the Congress-led government in Maharashtra in the coming days. A cursory look at the functioning style of Maharashtra CM point out the following:-
1. He seems to be more concerned over the flow of party funds for the next State Assembly elections than otherwise.
2. He does not enjoy the trust and confidence of bureaucracy. Many senior bureaucrats have openly alleged that he is quite whimsical and even most important files sent by bureaucrats disliked by him often go through microscopic examination and many questions are asked before they are cleared and that takes the toll of months together.
3. He has been at logger heads with the builder lobby in Maharashtra . Chavan took some steps to discipline the real state lobby which has been thriving under the patronage of politicians including some Congress leaders and “losses caused by the Chief Minister have spurred the real estate agents to look for ways to send him off ”said a senior bureaucrat.
4. His government’s stand on the Adarsh Housing Society scam has not gone well with some of his own party colleagues. His detractors allege that Chavan was out to settle political scores with his rivals within the party.
5. They also allege that a substantial amount of FDI has moved from Maharashtra to Gujarat because of the Chief minister’s rigidity and inability to decide on deals and joint ventures.
6. Maharashtra CM has also become the favorite whipping boy of both his friends and foes because even senior legislators requests, postings and transfers as well as funds allocations are not accepted and even routine proposals take very long time for clearance. It is here that Congress finds itself in a catch 22 situation. On the one hand, it can not afford to further infuriate and lose NCP alliance both at the centre as well as in Maharashtra while on the other, it does not have an alternative to replace Chavan with a more credible face.
Secondly, the majority of Maratha voters in Maharashtra still identify themselves with the Baramarti Strongman whereas the Congress vote bank is now suspect. The Congress party has not been able to consolidate its vote bank. It has only Dr Nitin Raut as a credible Dalit leader from Vidarbha while there is no such Muslim face in the state either.
Both Chavan and Maik Rao Thackeray as Marathas with very little ground support base and in case of a mid term poll, there Congress party is going to fall by way side. NCP, on the other hand has a great organizer in Ajit Pawar and Sharad Pawar himself is the tallest Maratha leader in the state whom no Congress leader can match.
Fourth, the thaw between MNS and Shiv Sena could cause added problem for the ruling Congress party in Maharashtra.
Under these circumstances, the Congress would have little choice but to listen to the wails and woes of Sharad pawar and accommodate his demands to the best extent for its own survival both in Delhi and Mumbai.
What however is not visualized by the Congress managers is that Sharad Pawar may choose an unconventional line to come our of the UPA II and that would be the spectacle of drought looming large over the face of the nation. More than 30 per cent rain deficiency by now has already started increasing the heart beat of Congress Ministers. On the other hand, Pawar has already been getting pilloried by the national media for rotting of food grain and the erratic PDS system syndrome. He knows that he would have tough time defending himself and his ministry is the drought situation worsens further.
The UPA II government has already been spending too much on subsidy on 3Fs( food, fuel and fertilizers) The government has already increased the petrol price by another 70 paise two days ago and it is likely to increase the price of diesel and kerosene in coming days all over again. This is to be followed by yet another round of cut in the subsidy of fertilizers and pesticides and the entire opposition would cry foul and make his life miserable.
Pawar would not like to take this blame further on his head and that is why he has already queered the pitch so that he gets the maximum in the bargain with the Congress this time around. He also knows that the Congress party would find it difficult to replace him as the next Agriculture minister from among the present lot.
Under these circumstance, it could also be likely that Pawar could be seeing the writing on the wall more clearly than many of his Congress colleague in this cabinet. Or is it that he knows that the coming events are going to create a situation where there could be chances of a mid term poll by the first quarter of 2013 and he may be playing his cards in this light as well?
Pawar has been on good terms with TMC Supremo Mamta Banerjee. He enjoys equally good rapport with Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and Karunanidhi and he can easily gang up with them the moment he feels that the UPA II government is not going to last very long. So, does it mean that he would be going to play the spoilsport in bringing this government down or causing a catastrophe in Maharashtra./ or he would use this deadline as the bargaining chip to extract the maximum leverage vis a vis the congress party at both the places. Thursday deadline would indicate the shape of things to come in near future.