New Delhi: The Congress headquarters in Delhi is trying to distance itself from the face-off between actor Kangana Ranaut and its Maharashtra ally Shiv Sena, even as disagreements emerge between party leaders in the state over the “priorities” of the Uddhav Thackeray-led coalition government.
At least three spokespersons of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) have told ThePrint off the record that the party has taken a principled position to stay away from the controversy.
“Yes, it’s become a highly politicised matter, and this is what the BJP wants. They want to drag the entire political spectrum into the controversy so that important matters like Covid and economy are not discussed,” a leader in the AICC media department said. “So, we have taken a principled position to stay away from this and not fall into their trap.
“There is no reason why we should take a position on this, and unnecessarily add fuel to the fire,” added another leader.
ThePrint reached chief Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala for comment via text and calls but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
Ranaut and the Shiv Sena have been locked in an ugly exchange since the actor claimed last month that she was scared of Mumbai Police. The entire issue stems from Ranaut’s comments about the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, including allegations about the presence of a drug mafia in Bollywood.
The ensuing Sena-Ranaut face-off — which saw Ranaut draw a parallel between Mumbai and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and Sena members warn her of retribution — culminated in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) razing part of Ranaut’s office in a plush Mumbai area Wednesday.
BMC, the civic agency of Mumbai, is led by the Shiv Sena. It claims the demolition drive was aimed at tackling unauthorised construction on the premises.
The Sena is currently leading a coalition government in the state with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) as partners.
Divisions in Maharashtra Congress
The central Congress leadership’s decision to distance itself from the matter comes amid disagreements among members of the Maharashtra unit over the BMC action.
Speaking to ThePrint, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said there are “more important issues of governance” than to focus on the Ranaut controversy.
“It is a criminal investigation, let the agencies do their work. There are definitely more important issues of governance to focus on, such as Covid-19, the economy, the stand-off with China. Criminal agencies do not need help from TV media or any political leader,” Chavan added.
Earlier, Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam and former Union minister Milind Deora, who represented Mumbai Southin the Lok Sabha from 2004 to 2014, had also registered their disagreement with the BMC demolition drive.
Appalled as a Mumbaikar with the state of affairs in the economic capital of India.
Maharashtra is #COVID19’s ground zero. Instead of focusing on governance, we’re busy settling political scores.
Time for all parties to come together & set our priories right.
— Milind Deora मिलिंद देवरा (@milinddeora) September 9, 2020
Former Mumbai Congress chief Nirupam described the BMC’s move as “an act of vengeance”. “There was no need of demolition at Kangana’s office. It is clear that it is an act of vengeance,” he said in a video statement.
Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant, however, said the party is only reacting to allegations made by Ranaut.
“Of course, we are still focusing on governance. But when she (Ranaut) is calling Mumbai the equivalent of PoK, then we have to speak up,” Sawant told ThePrint.
On allegations that the Shiv Sena was carrying out “political vendetta”, Sawant said the “timing” of the act can be questioned.
“The timing of the act can be questioned, but not the legality of it. If it was an illegal structure, then it needs to be demolished,” he said.
“Moreover, the Modi government is known for its misuse of ED and CBI, no one says anything then,”he added.
AICC secretary in-charge of Maharashtra Ashish Dua defended the party, and distanced it from the BMC’s move.
“The government machinery has not been diverted for this work. We are still focusing on Covid. The BMC conducted this demolition, which is a separate entity,” Dua said.
On Wednesday, even NCP chief Sharad Pawar had indicated that the BMC’s action could have been avoided.
Speaking to the media in Mumbai, he said, “I don’t know if there was anything illegal. I only read about it in the news. It won’t be appropriate for me to comment on this without having accurate information.
“But, illegal construction is not something new in Mumbai. Considering the current situation, the BMC’s action leaves scope for people to raise doubts over it,” Pawar added, saying the BMC has its own rules and may have acted by them.
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