UPA chief row: All is not well among MVA allies

Sonia Gandhi-Sharad Pawar-CM Thackeray

The ruling Maha-Vikas-Aghadi allies, particularly the NCP, were embarrassed on Friday when the Congress dismissed the media reports that the Maratha strongman and the NCP supremo would be the chairperson of the UPA. Surprisingly, it came just one day before when the NCP boss is celebrating his 80th birthday.

Most embarrassing for the NCP that even as Pawar has dismissed reports of him taking over the UPA, its allies Shiv Sena and Congress have expressed differing views on his ‘rumoured’ elevation. The Sena Rajya Sabha member and party spokesman, Sanjay Raut said that his party would be very happy if he becomes the UPA chief. Speculation that has swirled over the past few days intensified as the NCP chief’s Maharashtra ally Shiv Sena backed him for the role.

However, the Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam said that Sonia Gandhi is, and will remain UPA chief. The former Lok Sabha member, Nirupam said that they dismiss all the names that are being suggested as chief of UPA. This is a conspiracy against the century-old party and such attempts will be thrashed soon, he added.

The Sena, Congress and NCP came together under the umbrella of Maha-Vikas-Aghadi after the 2019 Assembly polls. The alliance between three ideologically differing parties came after BJP and Shiv Sena failed to reach a consensus on the post of the chief minister. The Sena is, however, not a part of the UPA. Sonia Gandhi, who retired as Congress chief in 2017, continued to remain UPA chairperson. She has been working as Congress working president after her son Rahul Gandhi resigned from the post in 2019 following a debacle in 2019 General Elections.

When Pawar and his supporters felt “humiliation” following the “rumours,” the NCP boss dismissed it as false news. “That I am leading UPA is not true. Media is spreading false news,” said the Maratha warlord, who turns 80 tomorrow. A section of NCP leaders also called it a ploy to divide the opposition in the wake of the agitation by farmers against the new agriculture laws. Pawar’s assertion came hours after the Sena said the Congress has weakened and the opposition should come together and take strong decisions on a new leadership.

It started with newspaper columns which stated that Pawar’s NCP should merge with Congress and become the party chief of the united entity. On Thursday, the story moved further when a TV channel reported about Pawar heading the UPA which then spread to other media. Some reports had suggested that Sonia Gandhi, 74, who was forced to take over as interim Congress president after her son Rahul Gandhi quit last year over the party’s abysmal performance in the national election, was inclined to give up the coalition leadership. But sources close to Sonia Gandhi emphatically deny such reports and say there is no question of any discussion or the Congress — the largest party in the opposition coalition — giving up chairmanship.

An enthusiastic Raut said that they will be happy if Sharad Pawar becomes the UPA chairman. “But I have heard that he refused it. He is a big leader. We will support him if such a proposal comes to the fore officially,” he further said, whose party was earlier part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance but is now ruling Maharashtra in partnership with the ideologically opposite NCP and Congress. Now Raut felt that UPA should be made stronger so that it can give a viable opposition against the NDA. “Congress is a big party, I admit, but it could not get the role of leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. We have to strengthen the UPA. The way the MVA in Maharashtra was formed, will there be such a formation in the country? And if yes, who will lead it? All these are big topics… Slowly we can solve them,” the Sena spokesman advised and pointed out, “Politics is unpredictable. You never know what will happen next. Pawar has vast experience, knowledge of the issues before the country and knows the pulse of the people,” Raut pointed out while undermining the Congress leadership.
The statement of Raut can generate controversies among the ruling allies. Earlier, the senior Congress leader and Maharashtra minister Yashomati Thakur took a strong exception over Pawar’s comments against the Congress youth icon Rahul Gandhi. Pawar in an interview had said that Rahul Gandhi’s leadership has “a few problems” and lacks consistency.

Expressing her anguish over the comments against Rahul, the Maharashtra Congress leader Thakur said that all allies should stop commenting on Congress’ leadership if they want a stable government in Maharashtra. “Our leadership is very strong and stable. Formation of MVA is result of our strong belief in democratic values,” she pointed out.

Friday developments again indicated that all is not well among the ruling allies!

** M Charulata