Mumbai: The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) has put up a united front to deal with the string of controversies that the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government has been facing. However, the cracks in the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress coalition, which have existed for long, have started to become more apparent.
Over the last two days, the Shiv Sena has raised questions about NCP leader Anil Deshmukh’s record as home minister, and the MVA’s damage control mechanism.
State Congress chief Nana Patole has got into an argument with the Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut over the leadership of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and there were rumours, which have now been quashed, about a confidential meeting between Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Anil Deshmukh has been accused of asking Mumbai Police officers, including the now-suspended and arrested assistant inspector Sachin Waze, to collect Rs 100 crore from Mumbai’s bars and restaurants. The allegations were made by former Mumbai Police chief Param Bir Singh after he was transferred as DG Home Guards following Waze’s arrest in connection with the recovery of explosives outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s house.
Last week, the MVA constituents had slammed Singh’s letter as the opposition’s attempt to destabilise the government, and decided to shield Deshmukh from the allegations.
However, senior Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut, who was Thackeray’s emissary in holding discussions with the NCP during the MVA government formation, Sunday criticised Deshmukh as an “accidental home minister” and questioned the MVA government’s lack of a damage control mechanism.
Experts say Raut is only making public the general view in the Congress and the Shiv Sena.
“Raut has expressed displeasure that a lot of people within the Shiv Sena and Congress had been feeling but didn’t speak about,” political commentator Pratap Asbe said. “Many were unhappy with the way Deshmukh handled the home department. It’s a very sensitive portfolio and matters need to be handled delicately.”
‘No damage control mechanism’
In his weekly column, Rok-Tok, in Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana, Raut wrote: “Deshmukh accidentally got the home minister’s post…No person can effectively work on the post of the home minister while being involved with dubious people.”
The Rajya Sabha MP added: “Shri Anil Deshmukh unnecessarily locked horns with some senior officers. A home minister should say as few words as possible. The head of the police department is not there to just receive a ‘salute’ but has to offer strong leadership. How can we forget that such toughness comes from honesty?”
Raut also criticised the lack of a “damage control mechanism” within the government, raising questions as to why no minister spoke out immediately after Singh’s explosive letter. He said there was much confusion in the first 24 hours and people initially thought Singh’s allegations were true.
Shiv Sena sources said party members were considering seeking Deshmukh’s resignation right after Waze’s arrest to fix accountability, while Singh’s transfer was being discussed.
However, following Singh’s letter and the BJP’s demands for Deshmukh’s resignation, the ruling coalition decided not to seek the minister’s resignation as it would set a precedent of bowing down every time there are allegations by the opposition.
Raut’s column drew a sharp retort from NCP leaders, with Deputy CM Ajit Pawar saying: “When the three-party alliance is working well, nobody, especially those from within the three ruling parties, should play spoilsport.”
A riled-up Congress
The Congress, which has in the past complained about feeling marginalised within the MVA, felt it was becoming collateral damage in the controversies over Waze and Deshmukh, as Waze was a former Shiv Sena leader and Deshmukh an NCP minister.
The party, however, eventually decided to back with its two partners, calling Singh’s letter a BJP-backed conspiracy and coming to Deshmukh’s defence. The party high command, meanwhile, has issued a gag order on its members over the controversy.
Amid the tension, Shiv Sena leader Raut further angered the Congress by once again suggesting that NCP president Sharad Pawar should be the UPA chairperson. In the past, there has been a war of words between the Shiv Sena and Congress over the issue.
Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole questioned if Raut had become Pawar’s spokesperson and said the Shiv Sena did not have any right to comment on the UPA as it is not a part of the alliance.
Meanwhile, political circles were abuzz with rumours about a meeting between Union Home Minister Shah, Pawar and NCP leader Praful Patel in Gujarat Saturday. Shah’s statement regarding this in response to a question, saying, “everything need not be made public”, further strengthened the rumours.
NCP minister Nawab Malik, however, in a statement clarified that there was no such meeting.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)