The Congress party has not only distanced itself from Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan but also made him clarify his recent statement that the party's decision to give the home ministry to the Nationalist Congress Party -- its ally in the state -- was a mistake.
Both the central leadership and the state unit of the Congress preferred not to offer any comment but indicated that it was Chavan's personal remark that came after the July 13 blasts at Dadar, Opera House and Zaveri House.
The Chavan-led government in Maharashtra also came under attack from senior Congress Member of Parliament and former minister Gurudas Kamat, who claimed that government negligence was partly responsible for the blasts.
Party insiders believe Chavan should not have made such a statement showing NCP in a bad light. Instead, they feel, he should have concentrated on rehabilitating the injured and also kept a close vigil on investigations.
The chief minister later clarified that the home minister was doing a fine job and said he was only referring to the long-standing arrangement between the two parties since 1999.
"Chavan has been quite consistent on his view since he took over in November last year that the Congress should have not left its claim on the crucial ministries of home, finance and planning, which are being handled by the NCP, its junior partner. However, the timing was totally wrong and by raking up this issue, he has given the NCP a reason to retaliate. Although the party has reacted in a sombre manner, its ministers are not going to leave any opportunity to grill Chavan in the ensuing state cabinet meeting," a senior Congress minister said on the condition of anonymity.
The Congress minister admitted that the NCP, already annoyed over the government's decision to supersede a 44-member board of directors of the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank, might also create roadblocks for Chavan in implementing various government programmes.
In this context, NCP's move during the Rajya Sabha by-election, slated for July 22, would be crucial. The Congress had nominated former minister and Muslim leader Hussain Dalwai for the seat, which fell vacant after Chavan became chief minister.
Further, the NCP may spoil the Congress' attempt to re-elect its nominee Sanjay Dutt in the by-election to the state council, necessitated by Dalwai's resignation. It would be an acid test for Chavan and the state Congress unit to get Dutt elected during the secret voting.
Deputy Chief Minister and senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar, without naming Chavan, said senior leaders of the Congress and NCP were capable of deciding on portfolios and there was no need for anybody else to raise the issue.
NCP state unit chief Madhukar Pichad said the allocation had been approved by the high command of both parties way back in 1999.
Congress general secretary in charge of Maharashtra, Mohan Prakash, also preferred to distance himself from Chavan's controversial statement on NCP. Sources say Prakash's act was expected, as he knows the party cannot afford to hurt the NCP at a time when the United Progressive Alliance government is passing through rough weather.
The NCP, with nine members in the Lok Sabha, has been supporting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and thereby the government policies, including its move to take on yoga guru Ramdev or the government's latest stand on speedy investigations into the 2G allocation scam.