- He was seen distancing himself from reports of rift in ruling coalition
- Sharad Pawar's NCP and Shiv Sena have denied any divide
- NCP's Majeed Memon slams comment, says Congress part of cabinet
Rahul Gandhi's comment today served to further complicate matters as his allies in Maharashtra's ruling coalition rubbished talk of a rift spurred by a series of meetings. The Congress is only playing a supporting role in Maharashtra, he said, appearing to distance himself from Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his decision-making in the state worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Congress later said their leader's comments had been twisted out of context, but the clarification did little to tamp down coalition crisis rumours that the Chief Minister's Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar had forcefully denied just hours ago.
"I would like to make a differentiation here. We are supporting the government in Maharashtra, but we are not the key decision maker in Maharashtra. We are decision-makers in Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Puducherry. There is a difference between running the government and supporting it," Mr Gandhi said in response to media questions on Maharashtra's coronavirus crisis and possible disagreements within the ruling alliance on tackling it.
"I said very categorically that Maharashtra is an important state, Mumbai is the financial capital and there is a lot of attention, they have a difficult situation and lots of attention needs to be given to the state by the centre," said the Congress MP.
In an attempt to paper over the cracks and project a united front, Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, an NCP MP, said Mr Gandhi was "absolutely right".
"I've heard what Rahul Gandhi said. He's absolutely right. It's a coalition. Everyone takes a decision together. Uddhav Thackeray takes everyone into confidence. I've seen him first hand, he takes everyone along," she said, her comments also a subtle reminder that all three parties - Sena, NCP and Congress - had equal say in the coalition.
Ms Sule was more conciliatory than her colleague Majeed Memon, who said: "It's not right to say Congress is not part of the decision making process. Congress members are part of the Cabinet. They are not providing support from outside. They are in the cabinet and sign off on decisions made by the Maharashtra Government, which includes the Congress party."
The BJP, accused by the ruling parties of stirring trouble in its desperation to return to power, seized Mr Gandhi's comments. "The statement of mistrust between two alliance partners by Rahul Gandhi is a bad joke with the people of Maharashtra," said BJP leader Shaina NC.
Signs of discord in the Maharashtra alliance were powered by Sharad Pawar's meeting with Uddhav Thackeray on Monday evening at the Sena leader's Mumbai home "Matoshree", hours after his talks with state Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari.
Mr Pawar is said to be upset at the Chief Minister's reluctance to end the lockdown and actively explore his suggestions to reopen Maharashtra gradually and exit the indefinite shutdown in the state worst hit by the pandemic in the country.
"There is no threat to the Maharashtra government. All MLAs are with us, any attempt to break them at this time will result in the public beating us," Mr Pawar told NDTV this morning.
Though the Congress was absent at Mr Pawar's meeting with the Chief Minister, the NCP leader said all three coalition partners in Maharashtra were together and united in fighting the COVID threat.
Mr Pawar also called his meeting with the Governor a "courtesy call". The timing, however, is critical, given that Mr Pawar has been openly critical of Mr Koshyari and has objected to his "intervention" in the state's decisions.