Mumbai: From constant declarations that the Congress will contest future polls in Maharashtra solo, to alleging that the state government is keeping a tab on him, Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole has emerged as a prickly thorn both within the three-party Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) at the helm of the Maharashtra government ,as well as within the state Congress fold.
Congress leaders say the former MP’s comments and recent actions, which seem to stem from his own political ambitions, have created a flutter not just within the MVA, which comprises the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress, but have also led to factionalism and differences within his own party.
Some party leaders, however, feel that the Congress’ ground-level karyakartas are happy with Patole’s aggressive stance, claiming that it helps the party — otherwise regarded as the third wheel within the MVA — be heard loud and clear, along with the Shiv Sena and NCP.
Patole, a four-time legislator from Bhandara and a former Lok Sabha MP, rankled all three parties in the MVA, including the Congress, Saturday, by reportedly alleging that Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar were keeping him under surveillance as they could not come to terms with the Congress’ revival in the state. The state Congress president was seen making the comments in a video of his address to party workers in Lonavala.
Patole’s allegation angered the CM and Deputy CM. The NCP’s Nawab Malik said it was a routine procedure to keep track of the programmes of all major politicians and that Patole should ask former CMs of his party. NCP president Sharad Pawar snubbed Patole as a “small leader whose comments did not warrant a response”, while senior Congress ministers Balasaheb Thorat and Ashok Chavan distanced themselves from his comments.
Patole, however, said Monday that the media had misrepresented his statements and his allegations were against the Centre.
The Print reached Patole over calls and text messages for a comment, but there was no response from the Maharashtra Congress president till the time of publication of this report.
The prickliest thorn in the three-party alliance
Patole was first appointed the legislative assembly Speaker in the MVA in 2019.
As Speaker, he ensured he made his presence felt, even at the cost of ruffling some feathers, at times also among his allies. In the state budget session last year, Patole ordered the then chief secretary, Ajoy Mehta, known to be close to CM Thackeray, to come to the bar of the assembly and apologise for an alleged delay in the administration’s response to queries and issues raised by legislators in the House. The matter was laid to rest only when Deputy CM Pawar apologised on Mehta’s behalf.
He resigned as Speaker in February this year, when the Congress leadership picked him to be the state party president. The Speaker’s post has been vacant since, with the MVA government supposedly waiting for an opportune, stable time to hold elections for the post.
“The CM and Sharad Pawar were both very upset with Patole for unilaterally tendering his resignation without a dialogue with MVA allies. They were of the opinion that the resignation would create unnecessary problems in the three-party coalition at a time when everything was going smoothly. That could be one reason why the CM has been hesitant to hold the speaker election until now,” a Congress functionary said.
Political analyst Hemant Desai said, “The Congress made a mistake by appointing him as the assembly speaker in the first place. The ambitious Patole also realised that it’s not a very high-profile post and the Covid-19 pandemic has made it even less prominent with all assembly sessions in the last one year been curtailed to two days.”
Meanwhile, the party’s decision to pick the aggressive and unpredictable Patole for the top post in the state Congress had left state party leaders divided over how beneficial it would be for the stability of the already shaky MVA.
As state Congress president, he has riled up his allies on a number of occasions — such as by his comments targeting Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut as a “spokesperson of Sharad Pawar” in March, repeatedly talking of the Congress wanting to go solo in future elections, and alleging financial irregularities in a coal washing contract last month that falls under the portfolio of Shiv Sena Minister Subhash Desai.
Some Congress leaders upset, karyakartas happy
Patole’s recent comments have also nettled leaders from his own party. Party sources said, senior Congress ministers such as Thorat and Chavan have been upset with some of Patole’s comments that help the opposition churn stories of a discord within the MVA.
Moreover, Patole’s letter to CM Thackeray and Industries Minister Subhash Desai last month, demanding a probe in the coal washing contract is being seen as an attempt to target Energy Minister Nitin Raut, also a Congress leader from Vidarbha like Patole, as the coal washeries are directly linked with power generation. Although Patole denied targeting Raut, the letter sparked stories of factionalism within the Congress.
A second Congress leader said, “Patole wanted to be a state cabinet minister and was eyeing Raut’s portfolio. Now he is frustrated, and everyone in the party is upset with him. The Congress high command had called him to Delhi last month and told him to avoid making comments that will stir trouble for the MVA.”
Patole started his career with the Congress, but has rebelled and left the party twice, once in the nineties and once before the 2014 Lok Sabha election, when he joined the BJP, only to return to the Congress fold in 2017. He has also had friction with state Congress leaders in the past.
As the head of the Congress campaign committee ahead of the 2019 state polls, the leader had organised a series of rallies allegedly without consulting leaders such as the then state Congress president Thorat, and former CMs Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan.
A senior Congress functionary from Vidarbha, however, said, “A handful of senior leaders may be unhappy, but the rank and file of the Congress is very happy with Patole’s functioning. He is finally seen to be giving the Congress a voice in this three-party government. Otherwise, the only voices heard from the MVA were those of CM Thackeray and NCP President Sharad Pawar. Ashok Chavan and Thorat have been very mild in comparison”.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)