File photo of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)
MUMBAI: Rahul Gandhi’s statement on Tuesday that the Congress was “only supporting” the Maharashtra government and was not “the key decision-maker” and NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s Monday evening meeting with CM Uddhav Thackeray at the latter’s Matoshree residence fuelled the theory that the barely six-months-old Maha Vikas Aghadi regime may be charting its course through troubled political waters amid the escalating Covid-19 crisis in the state.
While Raj Bhavan on Tuesday scotched speculation that the state was headed for President’s rule by stating no such recommendation had been made to Rashtrapati Bhavan and ex-CM Devendra Fadnavis said BJP had no interest in toppling the government which “would collapse under its own contradictions,” Rahul’s statement gave fresh ammo to talk about differences and lack of coordination between MVA constituents, CM Thackeray’s alleged unilateral decisions against NCP’s wishes and the government’s disagreements with Governor B S Koshyari.
“We are supporting the government in Maharashtra, but we are not the key decision-maker… There is a difference between running a government and supporting a government,” Rahul said at his presser when asked about the Covid-19 situation in the state. He said he was making a “differentiation” in the case of Maharashtra for this reason, and that the Congress was “the key decision-maker” in Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Puducherry.
Pawar’s meeting with Thackeray, which took place in the presence of Aaditya Thackeray and Sena MP Sanjay Raut and went on for 1.5 hours, assumed significance as he and the CM have had clear differences on lifting of lockdown curbs. Pawar has more than once underscored the need to announce relaxations, while Thackeray has been firm on enforcing restrictions in Lockdown 4.0.
Both Pawar and Raut denied there was any threat to the state government. “The government is stable, there is absolutely no threat,” Pawar said. Raut said, “There are no differences of opinion in the MVA government and there is no threat. The government will complete its five-year term. We (Sena-NCP-Congress) will contest the next assembly polls together.” Asked about Narayan Rane’s demand that President’s rule be imposed in the state, Raut said, “It should first be imposed in Gujarat as the high court there has criticised the government over the Covid-19 situation.”
However, if a senior NCP leader is to be believed, it was on Pawar’s prodding that the MVA government on Sunday abruptly reversed its decision not to allow domestic flights from and into Mumbai.
Sources said in Monday’s meeting too, Pawar spoke of the need to revive the economy and open shops and establishments, while Thackeray stuck to his line that though he was keen on reopening, it needed to be done in a phased manner. “This is a bone of contention between NCP and Sena,” a senior bureaucrat told TOI.
NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said, “We are a three-party government and we consult each other before taking policy decisions. We are of the view that it is high time we relax lockdown norms. We will have to take timely decisions to avoid unrest. Pawar has expressed the same view.”
State Congress president and revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat said there were no differences among MVA constituents but views were different. “Pawar has taken a view on relaxing lockdown. We will have to take note of it and an early decision will have to be taken,” Thorat said.
On Rahul Gandhi’s statement, Thorat said Congress was one of the MVA constituents and it was not a key decision-maker as “all decisions are taken collectively.”
But Fadnavis said Rahul was aware of the worsening situation and was trying to shift blame onto the Sena. “His party has not offered support from outside but is part of the government. He cannot shirk responsibility for the rapidly deteriorating situation,” the ex-CM said.
-Inputs by Sujit Mahamulkar