Congress leader Nana Patole's comments accusing his own government in Maharashtra of spying on him has activated another bout of damage control in the state's ruling coalition, and declarations of unity.
Nana Patole, the chief of the Congress party's Maharashtra unit, said today that he was "misinterpreted" and alleged a BJP conspiracy to create a rift in the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress alliance.
"The Congress is coming back in Maharashtra...have been saying it will be number one party in 2024. The result is BJP is trying to create problems in Maha Vikas Aghadi government. But the government will complete its full term," the Congress leader told reporters.
He also denied that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had called him for an explanation after Sena leaders complained to him. "I have not heard of any such complaint and if there is one, then I will meet him and give him the full explanation. Our fight is not against the Shiv Sena and NCP but against the BJP," Mr Patole insisted.
On Saturday, he had alleged at a party meeting that the Chief Minister and his deputy Ajit Pawar were keeping tabs on his movement because the Shiv Sena and the NCP (Mr Pawar's party) "felt threatened" by the Congress's rise.
"They receive reports about everything. Who is protesting where, everything needs to be updated. They even know what I am doing. The CM and Deputy CM are keeping a watch on me," Mr Patole had said.
Today, he said the allegations dated back to 2016. "My phone was tapped at that time, along with those of many leaders. We had asked for an inquiry. A committee was set up three days ago," he said.
Mr Patole's recent comment about fighting the next Maharashtra election separately brought the Maharashtra alliance strain out in the open and widened the rift between the ideologically opposed allies who came together in 2019 to keep the BJP out of power in the state.
Asked about the Congress leader's latest, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said caustically: "I don't want to talk about minor people. If Sonia Gandhi would have said something, I would have reacted."
State minister Nawab Malik of the NCP said Mr Patole had made the comments because of lack of information. He said the police maintained a record of the movement of ministers and leaders, besides political events and meetings. "If Mr Patole does not know about the system, he should ask his party's former Chief Ministers Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan," Mr Malik said.
Congress leaders scrambled to put out the latest fire.
Ashok Chavan said: "All parties are together. His statements are getting misrepresented."
On the spying charge, Mr Chavan said: "I am not aware of any such thing."
His colleague Prithviraj Chavan was more cautious. "I don't want to comment on individual people's comments... But as far as going solo in the Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha (assembly election), that's a different matter altogether. There is still time for that. We have to strengthen our party and that's what Patole is doing," he said.