The Congress lost a battle in the state to win a war at the Centre.
Which is why chief minister Prithviraj Chavan went soft on the Rs70,000-crore irrigation scam and allowed the NCP to come out with a white paper on it knowing full well that a cover-up was in the offing.
NCP’s Sunil Tatkare is the water resources minister and the person responsible for the white paper. And the NCP is in the dock because party chief Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit was heading the ministry and he had cleared maximum proposals ahead of the 2009 state polls.
An AICC functionary said, “At this moment, NCP is an important ally. At a time when every seat in Parliament matters, we cannot antagonise them on the domestic front over irrigation scams.”
Moreover, it is a state matter, he said. “It will be fought on the domestic turf. The Congress has nothing to lose by allowing the NCP to have its way in presenting the white paper.”
At the central level, the Congress is besieged by various problems — it has lost its key ally, the Trinamool Congress; it has to tackle several parties over allowing FDI in multi-brand retail; and there is the niggling issue of the coal block allocation scam. So, the NCP’s support is crucial.
But this strategy has landed Chavan in a spot. Twenty-five Congress MLAs have started a whispering campaign against Chavan. They want to know why he let the NCP have its way with the white paper; why no chapter on corruption and project cost escalation has been included. The state Congress unit also wants a judicial investigation.
Expectedly, the opposition — the Shiv Sena and the BJP — has alleged “match fixing” between the Congress and NCP over the irrigation scam.
BJP’s Vinod Tadwe said, “Chavan is the head of the government. He cannot pass the buck just like that. We are bound to question his integrity. A clean CM cannot be a mute spectator on a Rs70,000-crore irrigation scam.”
Both parties have decided to intensify its campaign against the Cong-NCP Democratic Front government. While Tawde demanded the setting up of a special investigation team, Sena MP Sanjay Raut sought a CBI inquiry into the matter.
Chavan has said that he is still to go through the entire contents of the white paper. A source in the chief minister’s office said Chavan rarely clears any paper without scrutinising it. “It is hard to believe that he allowed the presentation of white paper in the cabinet without studying it,” he said.