As talks between the Shiv Sena, Congress, and NCP over portfolio allocation in the new Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government drag on, speculation has arisen over the Raju Shetti-led Swabhimani Paksha, an MVA constituent, getting the key agriculture ministry portfolio.
However, Mr. Shetti, while denying that a concrete offer has come from the three parties, said the Swabhimani Paksha is most willing to accept this portfolio only if it is respectfully offered without any conditions attached.
As yet, there has been no offer from either the NCP-Congress or the Sena. This is mainly media-generated buzz. However, in the event we are made an offer, the Swabhimani Paksha is fully capable of handling the agriculture ministry given our grassroots expertise, Mr. Shetti told The Hindu from New Delhi.
Mr. Shetti stressed that his party is only interested in a cabinet berth and will not countenance any other ministerial offer. Even if we are given a cabinet berth, let me make it clear that our party will not compromise on the interests of farmers. We are firm on complete loan waiver and the waiver of electricity bills for farmers, and will not soften our stance on either of these issues.
Senior leaders within the party, however, fear that the talk about the agriculture portfolio being given to the Swabhimani Paksha might be a ploy on part of some leaders of the MVA to neutralise the Paksha, known for its agitations against sugar mill owners.
The offer of a cabinet berth is like a double-edged sword. If we accept it, the NCP and Congress will expect us not to agitate over farmers issues against them or against sugar cooperatives controlled by their leaders. If we reject their offer, they could easily say the Swabhimani Paksha has taken to the streets as it was not offered a cabinet berth. Hence, our insistence on a proper offer with no conditions imposed on our outfit, a senior Swabhimani Paksha leader, requesting anonymity, said.
The farmers leader, a former two-time MP from Hatkanangale in Kolhapur, expressed regret that neither the Sena, nor the Congress or Sharad Pawars NCP had bothered to consult their smaller allies like the Swabhimani Paksha, Peasants and Workers Party, Samajwadi Party, and Bahujan Vikas Aghadi on the cabinet formation. While the coalition calls itself the Maha Vikas Aghadi, it is essentially a coalition of three parties for all practical purposes&so, we will be deciding whether to back this coalition in the future, he said.
The Swabhimani Pakshas core committee will meet in Solapur district on December 11 to address the question of Mr. Shetti continuing to support the Sena-NCP-Congress coalition or pull out of it.
Mr. Shetti, formerly a constituent of the BJP-led NDA government, had severed ties with the BJP in 2017 while turning into a bitter critic of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and the erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis-led government in Maharashtra.
While Mr. Shetti supported the NCP and Congress in the Lok Sabha polls, the alliance proved costly for him as he was defeated by Senas Dhairyasheel Mane.
In the recently concluded Assembly polls, Swabhimani Pakshas lone MLA Devendra Bhuyar had emerged as a giant killer to defeat BJP leader and agriculture minister, Anil Bonde, from Morshi in Amravati.