Anna Hazare's fast, Congress-NCP bickering hog limelight in Maharashtra in 2013

Sunday, 22 December 2013 - 9:42am IST Updated: Sunday, 22 December 2013 - 9:43am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: PTI

The political landscape in Maharashtra in 2013 saw Sharad Pawar's NCP seeking to outmanoeuvre Congress, an agitation by sugarcane growers and tussle between the government and Opposition over alleged corruption in irrigation projects.

Rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, who had waged a long battle to pressurise the Maharashtra government to pass the Anti-Black Magic Bill, was killed in Pune in August. After four months and intense protests, the Congress-NCP government ensured passage of the Bill in Maharashtra Assembly.

As the year drew to an end, it was the indefinite fast undertaken by social activist Anna Hazare at his Ralegan Siddhi village for passage of Jan Lokpal Bill, which hogged media space.

Also, the report of the judicial commission of inquiry on the Adarsh scam was tabled in the Legislative Assembly. It was rejected by the state government. The two-member panel headed by Justice (retd) J A Patil indicted several politicians including three former chief ministers -- Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan -- for "blatant violations" of statutory provisions.

The commission came down heavily on those in authority describing the scam as a "bad precedent" which reflected "greed, nepotism and favouritism" by those associated with it.

The public spat between Hazare associate former Army chief Gen V K Singh and AAP leader Gopal Rai in presence of the Gandhian bared the differences between the social activist and his former protege Arvind Kejriwal.

NCP, in its bid to become the senior partner in the ruling alliance in the state after next year's Assembly polls, left no opportunity to target Congress, specially Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who completed three years at the helm in November.

Perhaps the year's most telling political statement, came from Pawar, reflecting the state of affairs between the ruling partners. 

At an event in September, Pawar alluded to Chavan's hands being "paralysed" when it came to signing files. Chavan was quick to respond, saying he would never clear "personal" proposals, which were against Maharashtra's interests.

If Pawar's comments weren't enough, his nephew deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar said Chavan's hands appeared to be "severely paralysed now".

Success in the zilla parishad elections in Nandurbar and Dhule in north Maharashtra boosted Congress' morale enough to keep its state leaders demand that the party should contest three more seats in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

NCP, on the other hand, was firm that the formula of 26:22 (Congress contesting 26 and NCP 22 of total 48 seats) should be followed this time around also as was the case during 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

During the year, eyes were on Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray's performance, a year after his father Bal Thackeray's passed away. Political observers felt Uddhav lacked the aggressive approach which marked his father's stewardship of the Shiv Sena.

Uddhav, however, appeared to have shown strong resolve in the way he handled important issues, be it expelling disgruntled former MP Mohan Rawle from party or showing senior leader Manohar Joshi, his place for "questioning" his leadership capabilities.

At a public event in Dadar in October, Joshi had indirectly referred to Uddhav as a weak leader for failing to build a memorial for Bal Thackeray. Joshi's outburst came after he was denied ticket for the Lok Sabha elections. Later at the party's Dussehra rally, he was heckled by party workers and forced to leave the stage.

Amid the political clamour over the re-auction of India's first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, the Sena launched a blistering attack on MNS after Raj Thackeray's party initially opposed the plan to involve the Sena-controlled Mumbai civic body in conserving the warship. 

An agitation by sugarcane growers, who were seeking enhanced sugarcane prices for the current crushing season, turned violent in western Maharashtra.

The protesters resorted to violent protests, as a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a delegation from Maharashtra failed to come up with a solution to the sugarcane purchase price issue.

The state government later decided to set up a sugarcane purchase and supply monitoring board, comprising representatives of farmers and sugar factory owners and headed by the state chief secretary.

In October, opposition BJP leaders presented 14,000 pages of "proof" to the Madhav Chitale panel probing the irrigation scam. BJP is alleging financial irregularities in multi-crore irrigation projects in the state.

The Opposition alleged there was cost escalation and said ad hoc decisions were taken to clear irrigation projects guided by political compulsions rather than ground realities. "Not only officials, but ministers are also responsible," they said, targeting deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar.

In June, NCP carried out much awaited reshuffle of its ministers but refrained from dropping the "tainted" ministers fearing a backlash ahead of ensuing Lok Sabha elections.

Public Works Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare and Medical Education Minister Vijaykumar Gavit, whose names figured in various scams, were not touched. Instead, the party dropped Ramraje Nimbalkar, Babanrao Pachpute, Laxman Dhoble (all cabinet rank), and Ministers of State Bhaskar Jadhav, Prakash Solunke and Gulabrao Deokar. 

Jadhav was later elected party's Maharashtra unit president. The NCP, for the first time, also elected a working president, Jitendra Awhad — an MLA from Mumbra-Kalwa — and announced a core group comprising the dropped ministers and others to prepare for next year's elections.

The state faced one of the worst droughts in recent times, but the government claimed it handled the crisis successfully.

The water scarcity was acute in Aurangabad district where farmers locked themselves in the office of the executive engineer at Command Area Development Authority, demanding immediate release of water in two dams in the district.

As the year drew to a close, there were reports that AAP, bolstered by its success in Delhi polls, may rope in Swabhimaani Sanghatana, headed by the farmers' agitation leader Raju Shetty, a Lok Sabha member, for its foray in rural Maharashtra.

Vijay Pandhare, former bureaucrat and whistle-blower in the irrigation scam, joined AAP after retiring as a senior engineer from the water resources department in November.

In September, senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde's estranged nephew Dhananjay Munde was re-elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Council on NCP ticket. Dhananjay, who had quit the BJP, had also resigned from the Upper House to join the NCP.

In October, renowned Gandhian, recipient of Padma Vibhushan award and former Union Minister Mohan Dharia, passed away in a Pune hospital following prolonged illness. He was 89.


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