'People will teach a lesson to those who are compromising it for the sake of power and money.'
With the winter chill yet to set in in Nagpur, the three-party Maha Vikas Aghadi has decided to put forth a united front against the ED Sarkar (Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government) as it gets ready for its first regular assembly session post COVID-19 in the state's winter capital Nagpur beginning Monday, December 19.
The united Opposition comprising the MVA constituents -- the Shiv Sena-Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress -- has plans in place to raise the heat during the 11-day session in Nagpur cornering the government over the issues of drought, soaring unemployment, inflation and emotional issues like the border dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka, the controversial utterances of Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and BJP ministers Chandrakant Patil and Mangal Prabhat Lodha related to Maharashtra icons Chhatrapati Shivaji and Mahatma Jyotirao Phule.
MVA leaders who spoke to Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com on the eve of the Halla Bol protest in Mumbai on December 17 claim they have "enough ammunition to attack the ED Sarkar" indicating a stormy assembly session in Nagpur.
The government, though, will be facing the brunt of the MVA attack even before the winter session begins Monday.
"The MVA leadership knows the importance of playing political hardball and mass mobilisation if it has to challenge the unconstitutional means adopted by the BJP government at the Centre and in Maharashtra to muzzle the voice of the Opposition," says senior Congress leader and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan.
"There will be mass mobilisation of people who believe that this government is trampling upon Maharashtra's pride by insulting its icons," says Chavan, who is also the Congress MLA from South Karad, speaking about the MVA march in Mumbai on Saturday.
While state Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Tourism Minister Mangal Prabhat Lodha and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandrakant Patil are reported to have made controversial remarks about Chhatrapati Shivaji and Mahatma Phule, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai's recent statements over allowing several villages in Maharashtra to merge with Karnataka and the subsequent burning of state government vehicles in Maharashtra and Karnatka added grist to the Opposition's mill, especially the NCP, whose national president Sharad Pawar issued an ultimatum to the Bommai government over the violence unleashed against those in Karnataka's Belagavi district who want to join Maharashtra.
'We have observed restraint for a long period. Now I am giving a 24-hour ultimatum. If violence continues in the next 48 hours, I will visit Belagavi and extend support to the Marathi-speaking there. Bommai is instigating violence; it will have an adverse impact on the unity of the country,' Pawar had stated at a press conference on December 7 as the violence gripped Belagavi town where members of the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, a political outfit comprising people who want to join Maharashtra, have been making efforts to get Belagavi merged into Maharashtra.
"It was quite unusual to see Pawar saheb get so aggressive during the press conference. He is giving indications that he still has lot of strength left in him for a good fight," says a former NCP minister in the MVA government.
"His mood is quite upbeat, he is prepared and ever eager to take a good fight to the opponents doorstep," this former minister observes when asked about Pawar's energy levels. The NCP veteran turned 82 on Monday, December 12.
Two days later, Supriya Sule, the NCP MP from Baramati and Pawar's only child, led a delegation of MVA MPs to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah over the border issue with Karnataka.
"The NCP holds huge sway in Maharashtra's border districts with Karnataka like Sangli, Solapur and Kolhapur from where many villages have expressed their wish to join neighbouring Karnataka. So, the border issue with Karnataka is a big pain-point for people in these districts and obviously touches a raw nerve among the people in western Maharashtra as also in the rest of the state," says a political observer who has seen Pawar's rise in Maharashtra's and national politics since his political career began in the 1970s.
"Shinde-Fadnavis should be prepared. It won't be easy going for Shinde's faction of the Shiv Sena (the Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena) and the BJP in 2024. I expect Pawar to get more aggressive -- how he handles the NCP's political messaging to the state's people and how he guides the MVA in the days ahead," adds the observer, speaking on condition that he would not be identified by name for this report.
Asked if the MVA unity will sustain itself for the forthcoming BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation elections and the state and Lok Sabha elections in 2024, Chavan says, "We want to fight together. We want to defeat this government in the BMC, unseat them in Maharashtra. Let's see what happens in the future."
From Saturday's Halla Bol protest it is evident that the MVA constituents want to corner the Shinde-Fadnavis government over any issue and the state government is giving them enough issues to keep the political pressure cooker in the state on the boil.
Speaking about Wednesday's meeting between Shah, Shinde, Fadnavis and Bommai in Delhi where the Union home minister called upon both state governments to be restrained and wait for the Supreme Court's decision over the issue, Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson Clyde Crasto says, "When they met the Union home minister they didn't voice the concern of the people of Maharashtra. They were mute spectators; they will never speak for Maharashtra or its interests. So the MVA has to."
"Who gives people like Chandrakantdada Patil, Mangal Prabhat Lodha and Governor Koshyari the right to humiliate Maharashtra's icons like Shivaji Maharaj and Mahatma Jyotirao Phule? They should keep hurling insults on our icons and they expect us to be mute spectators. We can't," adds Crasto.
The aggression quotient is upped by Arvind Sawant, the Shiv Sena-Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray's South Mumbai MP.
"The Shiv Sena (the Uddhav Thackeray faction) has never compromised on Maharashtra's interests. It never will. We are not like the BJP which thinks only about winning elections in everything they do," declares Sawant.
"If we raise our voices over people's grievances does not mean we are looking out for electoral gains. Did 106 people martyr themselves during the Samyukta Maharashtra agitation to win elections?" asks Sawant.
"Maharashtra's pride and territories are not for sale; people will teach a lesson to those who are compromising it for the sake of power and money," asserts Sawant. "We stand for our principles, our Constitution."