- Audio tape purportedly featuring Maharashtra Congress chief leaked
- Heard telling party worker he is frustrated by functioning of state unit
- Says can't comment on leaked conversation, admits there is "discontent"
Internal fissures in the Congress in Maharashtra are out in the open after a purported phone conversation between party chief Ashok Chavan and a distraught worker has gone viral. Ashok Chavan has not denied that the voice is indeed his and he admits there is major discontent over the Chandrapur seat for which candidate was declared on Saturday.
Party insiders say leaders like Mukul Wasnik, who contribute little to the party, are influencing party decisions for distributing tickets. Ashok Chavan admits there is discontent over the Chandrapur candidate of the party. All this on a day when the party held a press conference to formally announce its seat sharing agreement with Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and 54 other parties and pressure groups.
The leaked conversation is an embarrassment for the Congress as its state chief was heard telling a party worker that no one listens to him and he is in such a mental state that he also wants to resign. NDTV cannot vouch for the authenticity of the tape.
Ashok Chavan is heard telling the distraught worker, "You should take your complaint to Mukul Wasnik. I support you but these people don't understand." The worker is heard telling Mr Chavan "Who is Mukul Wasnik? You are handling entire Maharashtra." To this Ashok Chavan replies, "I know but no one wants to listen to me. I have also tried. I am also in such a mental state that I want to resign. You tell Mukul Wasnik that."
When asked about the conversation, Mr Chavan said, "If it is a sting operation I do not bother about that. Of course there is discontent in the Chandrapur seat which we are examining the situation. There are sentiments expressed by our workers in the Chandrapur district so we are trying to resolve the issue. If there is a conversation it is between me and my party worker, I don't feel the need to discuss these issues in the public domain. I am the president of the party here. It is my responsibility to ensure that the people who are there in the district are fully satisfied. I have assured them that we will take care of the issue and see what can be done."
When pressed about his comment on resigning in the leaked conversation, Mr Chavan said, "I have not made any public announcement. It is only a private conversation. I have not heard the tape so let me hear it first."
Meanwhile, the Congress and the NCP announced their coming together with 54 other parties and organisations in Maharashtra. "These 56 groups will take on the man with the 56 inch chest," a Congress leader quipped.
The Congress and NCP will fight on 24 and 20 seats respectively. The remaining four will go to smaller parties including Raju Shetti's farmers' pressure group which was with the BJP in 2014. The Congress hopes this arrangement will it tap into rural discontent against the BJP which manifested itself during the by polls ahead on 2019.
The Congress-NCP announcement was a mere formality as both parties have already declared key candidates in several seats. However, the delay in declaring candidates for important constituencies like Bhandara-Gondiya, Pune and Hingoli and Nanded are worrisome. Nanded and Hingoli are the only two seats the Congress won in 2014 and the delay is a huge worry as the party is already seeing internal rifts out in the open. In Bhandara-Gondiya, the man who defeated Praful Patel in 2014 as a BJP candidate and earned the reputation of giant killer is with the Congress now. Nana Patole is fighting against Nitin Gadkari in Nagpur this time. In the Bhandara-Gondiya by poll around a year ago, the NCP snatched back the seat vacated by Mr Patole's resignation from the BJP but the delay has raised questions as to why deciding on a candidate in top NCP leader Praful Patel's constituency is taking time.