Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar’s plain speaking on the Maharashtra Home department, while coming as a surprise, should fool no one into thinking that it was aimed at the mess in the State alone. Last Saturday, addressing NCP workers on the issue of drought, Mr. Pawar went off at a tangent and attacked his own colleague’s Home department in the State and called it to account. He spoke about poor intelligence, the need for assertiveness and demanded strict action against officers not doing their job.

One of the reasons touted for the recent Congress-NCP standoff was the idea of Sushil Kumar Shinde getting the much prized Union Home Ministry and also being proposed for Leader of the Lok Sabha. The NCP has been demanding a more significant portfolio for a while but the Congress has not given in yet. Mr. Shinde, who was inducted into politics by Pawar, is now both Home Minister as well as Leader of the Lok Sabha. In Solapur, Mr. Shinde, on his first visit after his appointment as Home Minister, took pains to point out that Mr. Pawar was his political guru and dismissed reports that he opposed his appointment as the Leader of the House.

On his part, Mr. Pawar too told the media last Saturday that he thought Mr. Shinde would be a competent Home Minister. However, going past this façade of bonhomie, Mr. Pawar’s cutting remarks on the functioning of the Home department were unexpected just as they were not pointing at any new problem in a department that is riddled with factionalism among police officers, corruption, and lack of preparedness. Intelligence alerts have been a bone of contention between the Centre and the State with Maharashtra often saying no specific warning had been given.

Installation of CCTVs

While the State can fault the Centre on intelligence inputs, the Maharashtra government has not taken a decision on installing closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) in Mumbai city and is now planning to re-tender the contracts. There is corruption in procuring suits for the bomb disposal squad and the Anti-Corruption Bureau has submitted a report on this in February. After the German Bakery blast in Pune in 2010, a network of 1,000 CCTVs is yet to be installed. That failing came into focus when the serial blasts occurred on August 1. The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) was understaffed even after the city suffered its biggest terror strike.

With elections looming in 2014, the NCP has to be seen to be performing, especially if the party is intending to go it alone without the Congress as an ally. Already there has been enough muck raking by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the alleged bogus companies and contracts involving two NCP Ministers, Chhagan Bhujbal and Sunil Tatkare. Mr. Tatkare, who is Water Resources Minister, is at the centre of a major irrigation scam in the State, which has been exposed by activists using the Right to Information (RTI) Act. There are court cases against dams around Mumbai which have been stalled due to their irregularities. To compound these woes, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has promised a white paper on irrigation, which is finally to be ready by the winter session of the Assembly.

All this does not bode well for a party which has to rise above the corruption in the Congress, if it has to face the electorate alone. The NCP holds key portfolios like Finance, Planning, Power, Irrigation and Home in the State, much to the Chief Minister’s consternation. It is facing flak over inadequate electricity supply though the situation is much better this year, according to power utilities. Its senior Ministers are in the news for the wrong reasons — Mr. Bhujbal for his alleged role in the contract given for construction of Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi, and Mr. Tatkare for numerous dams coming up without proper permissions. The State’s colossal debt burden is another area of concern.

But Mr. Pawar zeroed in on R.R. Patil for his failures. Mr. Patil is a man used to being targeted within his own party and from outside. After the November 26 attacks, Mr. Patil had to resign after making a silly statement about the terror strike in Hindi, a language he is unfamiliar with. This time he may not face the axe it seems.

Mr. Pawar’s diatribe on the Home department deflects attention from the other alleged scams by the NCP Ministers and also indicates that the party leadership is sensitive to key security concerns and is opposed to the minority community being targeted each time there is an incident. For the NCP then, looking at things long term, its leadership has to be at least seen to be setting things right. Otherwise it will have very little integrity left to show to the electorate when asking for votes, to rate it above the claims of the scam tainted Congress.

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