Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh tells Shobhita Naithani that the Congress will revive itself if it contests alone in the state
Why do you feel that the Congress should contest alone in Maharashtra?
The decision to contest alone in Uttar Pradesh resulted in a good number of seats for the party. If we contest alone in Maharashtra, it will revive the party. The Congress doesn’t contest almost 50 percent of the seats. We have an alliance with the NCP only during the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha elections. In the local elections, the Congress and the NCP workers fight bitterly against each other. Instead of a pre-poll alliance, we can have a post-poll one.
The Congress and the NCP have been running a coalition government in the state for over nine years.
Running the government and reviving the party are different.
Have relations between the Congress and the NCP soured?
No. We have a cordial relationship.
What is the reason for this newfound confidence?
The confidence was always there. The NCP and the Congress fought against each other in 1999. The Congress, at that time, won about 75 seats and the NCP won only 57. In the Parliament, we won 15 seats, while they won only six. In 2004, our number dropped to 13 and their number increased to nine.
Did the Congress fare well in this election because the MNS candidates split the votes?
I don’t think so. We have done well and retained all the seats.
You were asked to resign after the 26/11 attacks. And now you have been rewarded with a Cabinet berth.
I offered my resignation on moral grounds. A tragedy had taken place and as the head of the government, I had to take responsibility. After that, I was asked to campaign for the Lok Sabha and we did well. Our seats went up to 17. Now the High Command has thought it fit to give me an opportunity of working under Dr Manmohan Singh. The High Command knows how to honour a Congress worker.
Doesn’t resigning mean that the government had erred?
That is for the enquiry to find out. As the head of the government, I had to take responsibility. It does not mean I was personally at fault.
Is it your role to check Sharad Pawar’s influence in Delhi?
I don’t think so. That’s the perception of the media. He is my colleague and I have no personal grudge against anybody.
You are the only minister who is neither a Lok Sabha nor a Rajya Sabha member. How have you emerged as the biggest winner in the Cabinet?
The decision has been taken by Soniaji, Dr Manmohan Singh and Rahul. I am obliged to be given this opportunity.
‘After the 26/11 attacks, I took moral responsibility and resigned. I wasn’t personally at fault’
You have said that the people of Maharashtra are fed up with the regional politics of the NCP. Isn’t it dicey to say that since the NCP is an alliance partner?
I never made such a statement. Regional politics is a different thing. The NCP is a recognised national party.
The party High Command hasn’t reacted to your demand.
It is for them to consider. This is not a personal request, but the feeling of thousands of Congress workers.
But the NCP will ensure that the alliance with the Congress at the Centre remains unbroken, no matter what.
If the senior leaders decide to continue the alliance with the NCP, I will have no objection.
How will you soothe the Congress worker?
In coalition politics you have to compromise on many issues.