It may seem from the outside that all is well with the Maharashtra government, but the reality is different. The daggers are drawn and all three parties of the ruling coalition are on a collision course. The Maha Vikas Aghadi government is once again witnessing push and pull. This time, the Covid lockdown is at the centre of the squabble. The calamities management minister of the state is senior Congress leader Vijay Wadettiwar who announced on Thursday that the state will be unlocked. But soon after, the public relations department of the state government issued a statement that so far no decision has been taken on ending the lockdown.
It is clear that ‘all is not well’. Actually, in the past 10 days, this is the third time when the Congress seems to be alienated from the other two parties of the coalition – the Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The government’s denial on ending the lockdown after Wadettiwar’s announcement has left the Congress red-faced. After the issue was deliberated upon in the cabinet, this contradictory position on ending the lockdown indicates that there is a deep divide in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government. A day later, though, Wadettiwar said in Nagpur that this was not an issue of hijacking credit. However, quite opposite to this public reaction, there are murmurs of discontentment in the Congress against this. And observers say that the divide in the alliance is all set to deepen.
The Congress has already taken different positions on the issue of reservation in job promotions and the Nanar Refinery Project. Now after this U-turn on unlocking the state, the fight within the MVA has exacerbated.
Reservations on quota
The state government ended reservation in promotions on May 7. The Congress is not backing the government on this issue, in particular, energy minister Nitin Raut, who has assumed an attacking posture. He has asked the state government to take back its decision. The administration had issued a notification in March 2021, provisioning 33% reservation in promotions. But two days after the Supreme Court invalidated this reservation for Marathas, the general administration department of the state government on May 7 withdrew the reservation in promotions in government jobs for Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, nomads, and special backward classes, and others.
Tussle over Nanar refinery
It was state Congress president Nana Patole who raised the Nanar refinery issue. Patole was visiting Ratnagiri to take stock of the devastation caused by Cyclone Tauktae where he suggested that it was time when work on this refinery project should pick up speed.
The Nanar refinery is an important subject for the Shiv Sena. The party had opposed this refinery when the previous Devendra Fadnavis government had taken it up. Konkan is the stronghold of the Shiv Sena. Following an election promise, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray had already announced the stoppage of work on the refinery. In such a situation, Nana Patole’s statement may increase the rancour between the Sena and Congress.
Equations changed after Patole took charge of Congress in state
There were two opinions in the Congress on the issue of participation in the Shiv Sena government. One group was not supportive of sharing power by compromising on ideology. Because of this precise reason, many Congress leaders are not comfortable even after getting into the coalition. During the first one year of the government, several Congress leaders had expressed their displeasure openly and had said that the party was kept away from important decisions.
The Congress had gambled in appointing Nana Patole, who was the assembly Speaker, as its Maharashtra unit chief. Patole is considered an aggressive leader. He was asked to resign from the assembly and lead the party in the state. This did not please the Shiv Sena and NCP. The reason was that they had to elect another Speaker for the House, and another reason was that the coalition partners were not taken into confidence on this.
After Nana Patole became state Congress chief, the party looks less like a coalition partner and more like an opposition outfit. Patole, on many occasions, has raised issues that have increased the headache of the state government. Actually, the policy of the Congress is that despite being part of the Shiv Sena-led government, it should keep its separate and independent agenda alive. After the appointment of Nana Patole, the Congress seems to be successful in its endeavour but the government has been made to pay a price for this.