Column | Rift in Maharashtra coalition as Congress frets over diminished role

Column | Rift in Maharashtra coalition as Congress frets over diminished role
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar.

Shiv Sena mouthpiece 'Saamna' continues with caustic and telling phrases to describe both friends and enemies as it had being doing under its founder Bal Thackeray. Thackeray used his acerbic wit not only in his cartoons but also in the leading articles of the party newspaper which spread the message of his regional outfit, first in the erstwhile Bombay and then to the rest of Maharashtra. In fact when the Congress, a long-time political enemy of the Sena, decided to join a government by Uddhav Thackeray, piercing comments similar to those used by his father Bal Thackeray against the Congress, Sonia Gandhi, Muslims, north Indians and south Indians resurfaced.

But the late Sena leader had an original take on many situations and personalities. During the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance government (1995-2000), a senior BJP minister's romantic interest outside married life became a sensation. When there was some moral tongue clicking in the alliance circles, Thackeray came out with the classical line of Madhubala from the Hindi film Mughal-e-Azam which asked "Pyaar kiya to darna kyaa"( if you are in love, why be scared?). The witty reaction of Thackeray blew away the scandalous whispers and the minister faced far less moral scrutiny.

Even as Congress leaders in the state expressed their disgruntlement over the marginal role played by the party in the coalition government of the Maha Vikas Aghadi, the chief minister asked the senior Congress ministers to meet him. But a day before, the party paper, now edited by his wife Rashmi, let it fly at the Congress. There was cutting sarcasm as the Congress was compared to a creaking old cot, which makes lot of noise due to built-up resentment. Former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who is now a minister in the coalition government, had complained that bureaucrats were side-lining the Congress ministers and causing a rift in the coalition.

The cot analogy was used to describe how people sleep, but get up at their convenience, making the cot grumble. It also tried to drive home the point that the problems in the coalition government were being created not by Sena, but by the baby in the old cot, a reference to Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party which was carved out of the Congress two decades ago. Subsequent comments went on to say that there were more baby cots in many states, referring to parties like Trinamool congress and YSR Congress, which were all once part of the Congress.

Column | Rift in Maharashtra coalition as Congress frets over diminished role
Bal Thackeray

However CM Thackeray told the Congress leaders that the newspaper had full freedom to make its own comments and recalled it had often criticised Sena's former ally BJP even during his father's lifetime. But Congress leaders have had to swallow the barbs because there is no single assertive leader in the state unit which is divided among factions led by PCC chief Balasaheb Thorat, Ashok Chavan, and another former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who has remained outside the government. Congress high command knows well that it has to keep the second largest state of the country out of the control of the BJP.

After the government formation, Mallikarjun Kharge, the general secretary in-charge of Congress affairs in Maharashtra, has kept a low profile, leaving the co-ordination role among the alliance partners to Sharad Pawar, whose party is the second largest in the coalition. But the local Congress leaders want a decisive role as they feel that key portfolios have been hogged by the Shiv Sena and NCP when the portfolios were divided. The cot would continue to creak and make noises, but the Congressmen hope that it would not collapse under the weight of the coalition contradictions.

Column | Rift in Maharashtra coalition as Congress frets over diminished role
Ashok Chavan
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