After Rahul Gandhi's Upending Statement, Uddhav Thackeray Meets Allies

Speculation of strained ties in the six-month-old Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Congress coalition peaked after a meeting between Uddhav Thackeray and NCP chief Sharad Pawar on Monday.

Sharad Pawar on Monday met Uddhav Thackeray at his home. (File)

Highlights

  • Uddhav Thackeray has called a meeting of his alliance partners
  • The Shiv Sena and NCP have denied any divide
  • No threat to the Maharashtra government, Sharad Pawar says
Mumbai/New Delhi:

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray held discussions with his alliance partners today after a series of meetings and a comment by Rahul Gandhi led to questions about the future of his coalition government. Speculation of strained ties in the six-month-old Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Congress coalition peaked after a meeting between Uddhav Thackeray and NCP chief Sharad Pawar on Monday.

Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar of the NCP and Congress's Balasaheb Thorat, the state Revenue Minister are in the meeting, apart from the Shiv Sena's Eknath Shinde and Subhash Desai.

Senior Sena Minister Eknath Shinde said, "We discussed the steps taken to fight Covid and the other measures that need to be taken. The government is taking all steps to fight Covid. There is no disagreement among us. All three parties attended and all 170 MLAs are supporting the Government."

Talk of a rift started when two top leaders appeared to hold contrasting views on whether Maharashtra should exit the lockdown. While Sharad Pawar recommended a plan to reopen the state as well as Mumbai to revive economic activity after two months, the Chief Minister appeared to favour extending the restrictions.

After Mr Thackeray's meeting with Mr Pawar, the Shiv Sena and NCP both emphatically denied any divide but a comment by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi yesterday only reinforced the impression that all was not well in the ruling alliance.

Mr Gandhi said Maharashtra was facing a difficult situation in its fight against the pandemic and needed a lot of support and attention from the centre.

But what drew more attention was his description of the Congress's role in the Maharashtra government. "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," said the Congress MP, appearing to distance his party from Uddhav Thackeray and any decision-making in Maharashtra, which is the state worst hit by coronavirus in India.

Mr Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, an NCP MP, then sought to downplay the comment saying: "He is absolutely right. It is an alliance. That shows the humility, the honesty and dedication of the man. I am grateful to him for being honest and being a great team player. I compliment him."

Earlier in the day, Mr Pawar had denied that his meeting with Mr Thackeray on Monday, hours after he met with state Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, indicated any rethink on the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance that he had been instrumental in crafting.

"Fadnavis is getting impatient," Mr Pawar told NDTV, referring to the former Chief Minister and implying that Devendra Fadnavis and his party BJP are trying to bring down the government.

"But 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 said.

The Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut also tweeted: "The government is strong. No worries. Jai Maharashtra!!"

Maharashtra has close to 55,000 virus cases. The city of Mumbai has the maximum number of cases in the country.

The opposition BJP has been attacking the state government over its handling of the crisis. Senior BJP leader Narayan Rane has said the state should be put under President's Rule.

The Shiv Sena, after last year's Maharashtra election, broke up with 30-year-old partner BJP over power-sharing.

Mr Pawar was instrumental in putting together the unlikely alliance of the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress.