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Congress DNA in Maharashtra

Congress DNA in  Maharashtra
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Coalition dharma has no meaning for them. NCP leader Ajitdada Pawar, the acknowledged heir to Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar, loves to humiliate his...

Coalition dharma has no meaning for them. NCP leader Ajitdada Pawar, the acknowledged heir to Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar, loves to humiliate his Congress ministerial colleagues from any public platform A visit to Western Maharashtra will be an interesting experience around this time of the year if you are spiritually oriented, politically inclined or. like me, are both. This area is home to Sai Baba of Shirdi. It is also the land of the divine mission of Meher Baba, who had observed silence for 44 long years from the 10th July of 1925. His followers, known as Meher Baba lovers, maintain silence for 24 hours to commemorate the day wherever they are on that day. This year more than two thousand people assembled at the Meher Baba Tomb Shine with not one of them uttering one word under a cloudy sky. It was an interesting scene to watch. And to begin wondering when our chattering classes take the cue and go into the silence mode at least occasionally. There is no such hope at least on the Maharashtra political scene. The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are at loggerheads publicly. Coalition dharma has no meaning for them. NCP leader Ajitdada Pawar, the acknowledged heir to Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar, loves to humiliate his Congress ministerial colleagues from any public platform. One day this past month, he dubbed Congress senior Narayan Rane as a criminal, who had lost his mental balance, while his party colleague and Home Minister R. R. Patil called him a frustrated person. The rivalry between Rane and the NCP is not new; it dates back to the period when Rane was an honoured Sainik under Balasaheb Thackeray. But calling each other names so openly reflects the lows the coalition has reached now that the countdown has begun for the next battle of the ballot, and Sharad Pawar has set his eyes to increase his Lok Sabha tally by picking up at least 15 out of the 48 seats at stake. Both sides are trying to provoke the other and consolidate their vote banks often at the cost of the other. Early this month, for instance, the PCC chief Manikrao Thakre gave currency to rumours that Minister for Rural Development Jayant Patil would soon switch sides. 'We will be too willing to consider his entry', he said amidst reports that Jayant had met Sonia Gandhi twice during her Mumbai visit. Patil has his explanation ready, and that is that he had met the Congress supremo in his capacity as the guardian minister of Mumbai. But in the surcharged atmosphere today in the Maharashtra capital, his explanation remained a mere explanation, reminding the old-timers of the excuse Syndicate leader Neelam Sanjiva Reddy had given for his journey to Bangalore from Anantapur to meet fellow Syndicate leader Nijalingappa in the days leading to the showdown with the Indicate of Indira Gandhi. Confronted by the media, Reddy said that his Bangalore visit was to procure guava plants. Suffice it to say, the Congress is ready to poach NCP leaders even as Ajitdada Pawar is going around with his own politics of bluff and bluster, saying, 'We too have a list of Congress leaders hobnobbing with us'. While it is no secret that Jayant is sulking as he is given rural development, which is not high on the pecking order of ministries, he may not desert the NCP altogether. He may only use the Congress phantom to improve his place in the party because he cannot see himself in the company of Pratik Patil, the grandson of Vasantdada Patil, who had taught a lesson or two to none other than Indira Gandhi herself. Both are powerful families in Sangli district which is the sugar belt with more than 30 sugar factories and the largest trading centre for turmeric in Asia. Sangli's two other distinctions are production base for some classic vintage wine and chocolates, and the export hub of classical Indian musical instruments. Pratik Patel snatched control over Sangli municipality from the NCP in the civic body elections held on July 8. It was a crushing blow to the Sharad Pawar party; it entered the fray on its own symbol with high hopes of sweeping this largest municipal body in South Maharashtra but had to settle for just 17 seats to the Congress tally of 40 out of 76 seats on offer. In the elections held five years ago, Jayant Patil teamed with the BJP, Janata Dal, and Bahujan Vikas Party to corner 38 seats for the NCP. This time around, what the Congress did was paper over its own internal fault-line. Manikrao Thakre brought senior minister Patangrao Kadam, who is revered in the district, Pratik Patil and other heavyweights together and presented them before the electorate with picture perfect unity. Still the NCP might have had a chance at the hustings; it was spoiled by Ajit Pawar with his loose tongue that indulged in some below-the-belt hits at Patangrao and ended up generating sympathy in favour of the Congress. One lesson from Sangli verdict is that it is time for Sharad Pawar to make his nephew observe silence at least during the last days of any electoral campaign. This is the unsolicited advice from Patangrao too. "If Ajit Pawar continues such campaign of getting personal, as an alliance partner, I am worried about the 2014 Parliament and Assembly elections", he said in mock seriousness. After the Sangli civic poll, there is not much bonhomie between the Congress and NCP. Their rift has hit development projects with no coordination between the ministers of the two parties holding sway over different key infrastructure development agencies. Hotheads in both camps have begun speaking of going alone in the next election. Congress DNA provides the bridge to the Cong-NCP alliance but, like most old bridges in Western Maharashtra, this bridge has weak foundations. If it is to survive the monsoon fury and continue into the next summer, the ugly spectacle of bickering must end. It will be possible only if the leadership of the two parties talk to each other in mutual interest. (The writer can be reached at [email protected])
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