Maharashtra Congress leader Nana Patole described NCP chief Sharad Pawar as "the remote control" of the state's coalition government in his latest digs at allies before trying to temper it with an explanation.
"There is no doubt that Sharad Pawar is the remote control (of the Maharashtra government). We (Congress) do not make statements against any big leader, but any outsider should look into one's own party before making statements," Nana Patole said today.
As the comment against a senior ally spurred questions, Mr Patole tried to tamp down the negative connotations of the term "remote control".
"Sharad Pawar is the NCP chief. I am the Congress chief, so we want to strengthen our parties respectively. He is the remote control but he has a bigger role in making this MVA (Maha Vikas Aghadi) government. Sharad Pawar gives us guidance and therefore he is a remote control," he said.
In a stream of unfiltered statements over the past few days, Nana Patole has goaded both the Shiv Sena of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to alternate between public retorts and damage control.
It all began with his comments declaring that the Congress would contest the next assembly election in Maharashtra separately. The comments caused disquiet in the ideologically disparate alliance of parties who came together in 2019 to keep the BJP out of power in the state.
Both the Shiv Sena and NCP dismissed the statements, but Mr Patole did not stop repeating it. Instead, he justified the comment saying the Congress is rising in Maharashtra and would make a comeback on its own.
Last week, Mr Patole accused his own government of spying on him. But he later retracted, saying he was "misinterpreted" and accusing the BJP of trying to create a rift in the Shiv Sena-NCP-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.
Sharad Pawar had a trenchant response to Mr Patole's comments: "I don't want to talk about minor people. If Sonia Gandhi would have said something, I would have reacted."
Yesterday, Mr Patole struck again, taking a swipe at the NCP over the 2014 election. He said the Congress was "cheated" in 2014 as the NCP decided to contest alone.
"The decision to contest the 2024 Maharashtra assembly election alone will be taken by the party... Like NCP took the decision in 2014, we have our own strategy," said Mr Patole.