New Delhi: Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi Tuesday directed Congress ministers in Maharashtra to “not compromise on the party’s ideology”, a day after 10 of them were inducted into the state cabinet.
“He told us that what is paramount is the party’s ideology, its secular nature,” one of the ministers’ present at the meeting told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
“Indirectly, he asked us to ensure that the Maharashtra government stays secular.”
A second minister present at the meeting added that the people from communities have always viewed the Congress as a party that is “pro-poor” and “secular”.
“Rahulji told us that the people of Maharashtra have put their faith in us,” said the second minster. “He told us to address their problems and not let them down.”
The Congress is in an alliance with the hardline Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra. Rahul was known to be opposed to the alliance. It was the party’s state unit that had urged interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to join hands with the Shiv Sena “to keep the BJP out of power”.
“The Sena’s ideology is Hindutva,” said the first minister. “We have to ensure we strengthen and maintain our party’s stance.”
Ten ministers from the Congress — two ministers of state and eight cabinet ministers — were sworn-in by Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari Monday. That takes the total number of Congress ministers in Maharashtra to 12 — senior party leaders Balasaheb Thorat and Nitin Raut had taken oath alongside Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray last month.
The 12 met Rahul at his residence Tuesday along with general secretary K.C. Venugopal and Maharashtra in-charge Mallikarjun Kharge. After the meeting, they paid a courtesy visit to Sonia Gandhi.
To further emphasise the party’s secular agenda, Rahul also urged the ministers to ensure that they oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens.
There are widespread protests across the country against the CAA and the NRC and the Congress has expressed solidarity with the protesters while condemning the police for their “brutality”.
“The Congress’ line on CAA and NRC is clear,” said the first minister. “We will keep opposing them.”
Rahul has further asked the ministers to be sensitive to the needs of the people who have elected them.
“Unemployment will be one of the things we will focus on,” said Varsha Gaikwad, one of the ministers inducted into the Maharashtra cabinet. “We will work to address the problems of the people.”
A disparate alliance
The three parties managed to cobble together an alliance after nearly a month of discussion and talks over a Common Minimum Programme.
While the Congress and NCP prevailed over Shiv Sena’s hardline-Hindutva ideology in the CMP, cracks became obvious soon after. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, just two days after he was sworn-in on 29 November, categorically stated that “Hindutva will always remain his ideology”.
Less than 10 days later, when the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) came up for debate in the Lok Sabha, the Sena voted in favour of the bill that Congress called “divisive and unconstitutional”. In response, a visibly irked Rahul tweeted that anyone who “supports the Bill is attacking.. the foundation of our nation”.
The #CAB is an attack on the Indian constitution. Anyone who supports it is attacking and attempting to destroy the foundation of our nation.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) December 10, 2019
Sources said it was after the intervention of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, on behalf of the Congress, that Sena changed its stance in the Rajya Sabha. The party staged a walkout after MP Sanjay Raut asked for more information on the bill.
But that isn’t all. The Shiv Sena even kept away from the Opposition delegation, led by Sonia Gandhi, that went on 17 December to apprise President Ram Nath Kovind about the large-scale protests over the Act and sought his intervention.