The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is getting impatient. It wants the white paper on the irrigation sector to be made public to end the political exile of former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar.
The five meetings between chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and NCP president Sharad Pawar over the last two months have helped the government push the white paper, albeit on its own terms and conditions.
Water resources minister Sunil Tatkare asserts, “The government has spent only Rs42,000 crore, and not Rs70,000 crore, on irrigation projects over the last 10 years.” Secondly, he argues, cost escalation of projects cannot be construed as corruption. Delays in land acquisition, inflation and restructuring of projects are responsible for cost escalations, claims Tatkare. NCP sources reveal, “The party knows that it cannot keep Ajit in political wilderness any more. Sidelining Ajit, who is the NCP leader in the assembly, for long will prove to be detrimental to the ruling Congress and NCP combine.”
A close aide of Ajit questions, “How do you expect a dynamic politician like Ajit to be tied and pushed into exile?”
Shortly after Ajit took the decision to quit the government, he wanted to tour Maharashtra. The objective was to consolidate the NCP base across 35 districts. But, the top leadership in the NCP who have worked with Pawar senior disallowed the tour. They felt that if Ajit continued his public tirade against the Congress and the CM, it would create tension within the coalition government in the state as well as at the Centre. In bargain, it was given to understand that a white paper would be presented before the winter session in December, thus paving the way for his immediate rehabilitation in government. The onus of preparing the white paper was put on the nodal department of ministry of water resources, headed by Sunil Tatkare.
On his part, Chavan left the discretion over Ajit’s return in the cabinet to the NCP.
Ajit’s resignation has helped the NCP argue that he stayed out of the entire process of preparing the white paper. Therefore, nobody can accuse him of influencing government decisions.
A senior Congress minister says, “In a coalition government, we cannot dictate terms to an ally. It is up to the NCP to explain to the people why Ajit resigned and why he has returned.”
A political manager in the NCP argues that once Ajit returns, “he will give a befitting reply to everybody”.
A Congress MLA representing Vidarbha says the party is chiefly concerned with the completion of mega-projects, like the Goshikhurd dam project, to ensure that vast stretches of land are irrigated.
The Shiv Sena and the BJP want the government to incorporate details of financial irregularities in the white paper and to punish those responsible for the fudging.