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Sena Reconcile, “No NCP Meeting with Amit Shah:” Sanjay Raut

Sena Reconcile, “No NCP Meeting with Amit Shah:” Sanjay Raut

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Mar 29: In a bid to amend the damage his angry outbursts could have caused to the unity of the three-party Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena leader and editor of its mouthpiece “Saamana” on Monday said he was convinced that there was no “secret” meeting between the Nationalist Congress Party leaders and the union home minister Amit Shah.

The report that the NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, considered to be the main architect of the MVA government, and his deputy Praful Patel had a “secret” meeting with Shah at a farmhouse of a Gujarati billionaire in Ahmedabad on Saturday night had fuelled speculations about the future of the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance.

Coming in the wake of series of charges against the home minister Anil Deshmukh, who belonged to the NCP, and Pawar joining the issue turning down the demand for Deshmukh’s resignation pending an inquiry, the alleged “secret” meeting with Shah caused much heart-burn among the Sena leaders who felt that the party’s image was soiled due to the alleged misdeeds of the NCP home minister.

Raut in a column in “Saamana” had not only questioned the advisability of the NCP leaders meeting Shah at this juncture, he had also hit out at Deshmukh calling him “an accidental home minister” who was believed to be the party’s third choice for the post after two other senior leaders had refused to shoulder the responsibility. He had indirectly hinted that Deshmukh had caused much damage to the image of the Sena-led government and had criticized his own chief minister Uddhav Thackeray for not deploying adequate “damage control” measures to save the party and the government’s image in the wake of the former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh’s letter in which he had accused his political boss of running an extortion racket through the Maharashtra police.

But apparently realizing the damage his angry outburst against Deshmukh and NCP could cause to the 16-month old government, particularly when the BJP is just waiting behind the wings to destabilize the three-party government, Raut was found to have considerably mellowed down on Monday. “I can say with conviction that the meeting did not take place,” tweeted Raut trying his hand at moving the pendulum back from where he had set it just hours ago.

Raut’s comments came after some Ahmedabad-based vernacular newspapers claimed that Pawar and Patel did meet Shah on Saturday night in a farmhouse in Ahmedabad. “Some things should become clear with time, otherwise confusion is created. I can say with confidence that no secret meeting has been held between Sharad Pawar and Amit Shah in Ahmedabad or anywhere. Now put an end to the rumours. It will not get anyone anything,” Raut’s tweet, roughly translated from Hindi, said.

The tweet came after Raut realized that it was to BJP’s advantage that Shah deliberately allowed the confusion to continue. Shah’s cryptic remark that “everything need not be made public” when asked by the media about his meeting with Pawar, had further fuelled the speculation about something cooking between the NCP and the BJP which could impact the future of the MVA government.

Even though the NCP leaders had denied of holding any such meeting, apparently Sena then was not convinced as reflected from Raut’s outbursts against Deshmukh. In yet another course correction, Raut said it did not much matter even if the meeting did actually take place. “There is nothing to raise eyebrows over the rumoured meeting between Sharad Pawar and Amit Shah. In fact, a dialogue between leaders of opposition (rival) parties is good. I am saying this provided they actually met each other in Ahmedabad,” the Sena MP was quoted as saying by the media.

“If Amit Shah and Sharad Pawar met, why worry,” he had tendered, “can’t a senior MP meet the Home Minister?” he said.

The entire matter is docked on whether Deshmukh did or did not deploy a controversial police officer, Sachin Vaze, to “collect” 100 crores every month for the government as alleged by Singh.

The alleged exercise in extortion blew up in an unattended SUV being parked about a month ago near the Mumbai home of industrialist Mukesh Ambani with some 20 gelatin sticks and a note warning the industrialist and his wife of imminent danger.

The SUV’s license plates turned out to be fake; the man who reportedly owned it, Mansukh Hiran, was found dead in a river within the week. His wife said the SUV had in fact been taken by Vaze three months earlier.

Vaze was arrested on March 13. The dotted line from him to the state’s Home Minister has been drawn by Singh. The NCP and Pawar termed Singh’s letter a conspiracy and has vendetta for his being removed from office and shunted to non-descript home guards. Singh has on the other hand said he tried to alert the government to Vaze’s misdeeds and was steadfastly ignored; he has also petitioned the Bombay High Court to order a CBI inquiry to investigate Deshmukh.

When the scandal first arrived, Sharad Pawar acknowledged that the charges against Deshmukh were serious and deemed it appropriate for Thackeray to commission an inquiry against the Home Minister. But a day later, Pawar’s party rolled back that stand to declare that Deshmukh would not resign. Pawar had claimed that Singh’s story was full of holes.

For Chief Minister Thackeray, who is head of the Shiv Sena, the timing of Vaze-gate is inimical. Covid cases have sprinted upwards, forcing a night curfew across the state; a lockdown is under consideration. In the one-and-a-half-year history of his government, in handling a spurt of crises, many caused by the friction within the ruling alliance, he has relied on the close working relationship he has with Sharad Pawar which is why the 80-year-old’s dinner meeting with Shah had everyone so riled up.




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