Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday sought to distance his party from the handling of the coronavirus crisis in Maharashtra, saying that the Congress was not the “key decision maker” in the ruling coalition in the state, NDTV reported. Maharashtra has recorded by far the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths of any state. As of Tuesday evening, 54,758 infections had been detected and 1,792 people had died.
Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray is at the head of the state government as the chief minister. The government includes the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party. The Shiv Sena has 56 seats, the Nationalist Congress Party 54 seats and the Congress 44 seats in the 288-member Legislative Assembly.
“I would like to make a differentiation here,” Gandhi told media persons on Tuesday in response to a question about the handling of the coronavirus crisis and rumours of fissures in the ruling coalition. “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.”
Gandhi also appeared to blame the Centre, saying that it needs to give a lot of attention to the coronavirus situation in Mumbai, as it is the financial capital of India and because Maharashtra is an important state. Mumbai has recorded over 32,000 Covid-19 cases so far, the highest of any city in India.
Maharashtra Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam criticised Thackeray. “He keeps changing his decisions everyday, decisions that are delayed and often wrong,” Nirupam told reporters. “The result is that the coronavirus crisis is increasing.” Nirupam also said the chief minister should speak to his alliance partners more often than to the public.
But Nationalist Congress Party leader Supriya Sule attempted to defuse the situation, agreeing with Gandhi as well as supporting Thackeray, the Hindustan Times reported. “He is absolutely right. It is a coalition,” she said. “Everyone takes a decision together. Uddhav Thackeray takes everyone into confidence.”
However, her party colleague Majeed Memon criticised Gandhi, saying that the Congress has ministers in the Maharashtra Cabinet, and is therefore a decision-maker just like Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party.
Political drama in Maharashtra
Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis rejected Thackeray’s claim, made two days ago, that the Centre had not been helping the state. He said the Centre has allocated Rs 28,104 crore to Maharashtra, and an additional Rs 5,648 crore in devolution of taxes.
“We have fiscal space of Rs 1.2 lakh crore,” he said. “We have a shortage in GST [Goods and Services Tax revenue] as business is on hold...the shortage in GST can be made up through borrowings.”
Fadnavis has been critical of Thackeray’s handling of the crisis, and has questioned the state government for not announcing a financial package.
On Monday, BJP leader Narayan Rane met state Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and demanded that President’s Rule be imposed in the state. However, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar met Koshyari too. Pawar declared after the meeting that there were no problems in the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance, and called Fadnavis “impatient”.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut refuted rumours earlier on Tuesday of a rift, adding that Pawar and Thackeray’s meeting ran for one-and-a-half hours the previous evening. “Those doubting about the stability of this government are doing so out of their own grudge,” Raut tweeted. “This government is strong.”