New Delhi: Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has a direct line of communication with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and there are no differences between the two political parties that are partners in the state’s Maha Vikas Aghadi (VKA) government, said Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut.
Speaking to ThePrint, Raut added that, contrary to media reports of a rift between the two allies, the MVA government — led by a tripartite coalition also comprising the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — will complete its full term.
“When Uddhav ji became the CM and came to Delhi, he met both Priyanka ji and Sonia ji. Whenever there is a requirement, the chief minister directly talks to Sonia ji,” he said. “I would like to reiterate that they have direct communication and they don’t require any mediators.”
Raut, 59, a Rajya Sabha member who has emerged as the most prominent voice of his party on the national stage, is currently in Delhi for the ongoing monsoon session, which ends Friday. While here, he has also been involved in Opposition huddles over putting up a joint front against the BJP, which rival parties have accused of stifling their voice on the Pegasus row in Parliament.
The Modi government’s controversial farm laws are another issue where the Opposition has pledged to forge unity. Last week, Raut and former Congress president Rahul Gandhi were among the opposition leaders who joined a protest gathering against the farm laws at Jantar Mantar.
In his interview, Raut weighed in on the constant reports of cracks in the MVA, and the attempts to establish Opposition unity, and also accused the government of ignoring discussions on issues including Pegasus.
‘Congress an equal partner’
The MVA — described as an unlikely coalition from the start, given former BJP ally Sena and the Congress’ long history of acrimony — has been dogged by speculation of imminent collapse since the government was sworn in November 2019.
Much of this speculation has centred on the Congress’ alleged perceptions about its place in the alliance as the “third wheel”, and calls from party leaders about its desire to go solo in different elections.
Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole has consistently made statements that his party will fight upcoming elections, even the 2024 Lok Sabha and assembly polls, solo, but toned down his stance after a meeting with Rahul last month.
Mumbai Congress president Bhai Jagtap and the party’s opposition leader in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Ravi Raja, too, have said the party will contest the 2022 Mumbai civic polls solo.
The Shiv Sena, meanwhile, has also hit back at allegations from the Congress camp that it has been left out of government decision-making.
Asked about comments by Congress leaders in Maharashtra about allegedly being sidelined, Raut dismissed the charge.
“Four days back, I had a meeting with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. I met him and had a discussion that lasted over 1.5 hours. Congress is an equal partner in the MVA government. Congress also has good portfolios including revenue, energy, PWD, education. So how can it feel sidelined?”
Pegasus, farm laws, fuel price hike
Raut criticised the Modi government for “not allowing a discussion on issues such as farm laws, fuel price hike, unemployment and Pegasus”.
“Why is the government running away from a discussion? Government should not run away from debate and discussion. If it feels that we are saying something wrong, that we have incorrect information, then the government should correct us and say that the Opposition is a liar,” he said.
“They have the right to do that. But it is indeed running away from a discussion on Pegasus and the fact that it is running away is increasing the doubt that they are trying to hide something. That you are trying to mislead the people,” he added.
The Pegasus controversy pertains to an expose by a global media consortium that claims to have found a list of suspected snooping targets who may have been targeted with a powerful spyware made by the Israeli firm NSO Group, which says it only licenses the software to intelligence and law enforcement agencies of “vetted governments”.
“If not the PM, then home minister… They are such tall leaders, such courageous leaders, so why are they running away?” he said. “You have such a huge majority, then why are you running away?”
Talking about Opposition unity, Raut described it as the need of the hour.
“Opposition unity can definitely be achieved, why not? When Atal Vajpayee ji was prime minister, there were 34 political parties together in the NDA. Even then, there were parties with different ideologies and views, states, and regional parties were together. We all worked together.
“Even now, if such a front is formed comprising opposition parties… I feel a strong opposition is essential and important for Parliament and outside too. I won’t say that a front has been formed and immediately we will come to power. But whenever a good front has been formed, it has yielded positive results.”
He said it was not a good thing for the country and parliamentary democracy that “there are no leaders of opposition in the Lok Sabha”.
The Congress, the party with the second-highest share of seats in the Lok Sabha, couldn’t secure enough constituencies (10 per cent of the lower house’s total of 543) to claim the post of Leader of the Opposition.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)