The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) broke its 15-year alliance with the Congress last week with the hope of scoring a majority in the election to the 288-member Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. However, the party faces a tough task to clear its scam-tainted image. NCP leader and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar tells Sanjay Jog the allegation of corruption against his party is a political conspiracy. Edited excerpts:
NCP seems to have been cornered by the other parties on the corruption issue. How prepared is your party to tackle this?
This (corruption allegation) is a conspiracy to malign the NCP and its leaders in the run-up to the Assembly poll. A special investigation team (SIT) has already probed the so-called irrigation scam and has given a clean chit to us. SIT has not passed any strictures against me and former water resources minister Sunil Tatkare. The government had also brought out a white paper on the status of the irrigation sector. Attempts were made to put NCP ministers in a wrong box or treat them as culprits even in other cases, but allegations have not yet been proved.
NCP will not be quiet and it is fully prepared to rebut the allegations during the poll campaign. During 1995 Assembly election, a similar campaign was unleashed against NCP president Sharad Pawar, but the opponents failed to prove their charges even after so many years. NCP will make its position clear though an effective print, electronic and social media campaign. This apart, party leaders will also address public meetings. I myself plan to hold virtual rallies across the state. I want to make it amply clear that I don't indulge in corrupt practices and I will not allow others to do that.
There are also allegations of corruption in toll collection...
NCP has been advocating changes in the toll policy. Already, two- and three-wheelers, tractors and bullock carts are exempted from paying toll charges. We were proposing that toll be waived for light-motor vehicles and state transport buses. I agree this would have increased the toll collection period to, say, 20 years from 15 years but at least we would have given relief to the common man.
However, despite repeated attempts from our side, toll collection at Kharghar junction in Navi Mumbai could not be scrapped because former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had taken a different view.
But Chavan reined in NCP despite your party’s attack on him...
Chavan was criticised for slow decision making and policy paralysis not only by the NCP, but by the Congress party's former ministers and legislators, too. To maintain his ‘Mr Clean image’, Chavan told his critics he never took any decision in haste or to appease a particular lobby. If this is so, then how has Chavan cleared various files of builders and realty players in the past two months just before the Assembly poll? Were the pro-builder decisions for mobilising election fund? This needs to be thoroughly probed and the details in this regard be brought to light through the Right to Information Act.
Chavan, who delayed several decisions including those pertaining to builders and realty players, could have taken the same stand in the builders’ case also.
Chavan has blamed you for the split between the NCP and Congress, saying you were ambitious to become the chief minister.
NCP has made all efforts to save the alliance. It was Sharad Pawar who initiated talks with Congress president Sonia Gandhi two months ago. Last week, NCP and Congress leaders met to take the talks forward. But Chavan suddenly left for his home town when we were expecting further meetings. Chavan and I spoke when the NCP prepared to settle at 135 seats, while leaving its claim over 144 seats. However, NCP did not get any response from the Congress. Since the very beginning, Chavan has been opposed to a poll tie-up with NCP.
As regards Chavan’s allegation that I am ambitious, yes I want to become the state’s chief minister. Wasn’t Chavan ambitious? He resigned from the Union Cabinet as a minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office to take over as the chief minister in November 2010.
Is your party projecting you as NCP's chief ministerial candidate?
No. We are contesting the Assembly poll under the collective leadership under the guidance of our tallest leader and visionary Sharad Pawar, a four-time chief minister.
Why should people vote for NCP?
We have a team of capable leaders who over the years have done a lot of developmental work in their respective areas. They have acumen and vision to lead the state and ensure further progress. The NCP proposes to give priority to expedite growth in rural areas and address issues arising out of rapid urbanisation in the state. Our party wants to bring in transparent housing policy to enable houses to police force, government employees, textile mill workers and mathadi (manual) workers, apart from slum dwellers. The government can consider giving an extra floor space index to builders along the metro or mono rail projects so that some houses can be made available to various sections.