New Delhi: After days of strongly defending him, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Wednesday suspended its murder-accused MP Padamsinh Patil.
Ironically, the suspension came on a day when the party completed 10 years of its existence. But the celebrations were muted with most major NCP leaders staying away from the event.
Of late, political clamour has been building up about a possible merger with the Congress. With one of NCP’s founder members PA Sangma having already apologised to Sonia Gandhi on the foreign origins issue and with the Maharashtra Assembly elections just months away, the party is facing an identity crisis.
Party leader Praful Patel spoke with CNN-IBN on India at 9 and took these key questions.
CNN-IBN: The foreign origin issue no longer exists, PA Sangma has apologised to Sonia Gandhi for that issue– so should the NCP now exist?
Praful Patel: Let’s not mix up what Mr Sangma has been saying all these years. He always had a separate view. The fact is that NCP has had an excellent relationship with the Congress ever since 1999 in Maharashtra. We fought the 2004 Lok Sabha elections and Maharashtra Assembly together. So did we in 2009 election. These questions were asked in 1999, they were asked in 2004 and they are being asked again in 2009. I don’t think that’s the issue. We want to work with a secular formation at the Centre and the state and Congress is the best party to be with. Inspite of whatever happened in past, Sonia has shown exemplary leadership.
CNN-IBN: It’s not just us who are saying this. It’s your own Goa President who said it when he quit the party. Today your (NCP’s) reason for existence – if you like – has gone away. What is the point of continuing with a separate party?
Praful Patel: Let’s not get carried away by this Goa issue. The gentleman concerned has been wanting to be eased out of the position for a long time. He is pretty old. We have three MLAs in Goa, two of whom are ministers. These are not the views of people on the forefront.
CNN-IBN: Are you ruling out any possibility of the merger of the NCP with the Congress? There are elections in Maharashtra in three months. No question of a merger?
Praful Patel: The same questions were asked in the past. There can’t be any other reply to these questions.
CNN-IBN: What is the reply? Is it just a personality issue then?
Praful Patel: Every party which is the part of UPA should be a part of the Congress then? The answer is that we have an excellent relationship with Congress and we will continue to work together with them. I don’t think what you are trying to extract from me is a possibility.
CNN-IBN: So we should not read too much into muted celebrations and Congress calling for a merger with the NCP? There’s no question of a merger?
Praful Patel: Muted celebrations…naturally because we have come out of a General Election, not too favourable for the NCP though. The issue of Padamsinh Patil is also not something to be very happy about. We do feel soory that such an incident has happened. If a part takes an action against its MP in 72 hours, I don’t think it’s an afterthought and neither can you take a knee-jerk reaction regarding a senior MP.
CNN-IBN: Two days ago, the party wasn’t even willing to call it an embarrassment. With elections in Maharashtra in three months you’re saying this.
Praful Patel: I am sure you know that people like me will not be mute spectators if something is going to be against the basic probity in public life. We do have some conscience. People like me – none in the party – will brush these things under the carpet. We never wanted to defend Padamsinh Patil if he was guilty. Even if we had suspended on day 1, it wouldn’t have stopped you from crying foul.
CNN-IBN: How do you look back at these 10 years, it’s been a sad anniversary for you.
Praful Patel: If you go by the numbers elected to Parliament, yes we are not happy. If you go by percentage of votes polled by NCP in Maharashtra, there’s nothing to be sad about. We got equal percentage of votes – 19.3 pc.
CNN-IBN: So no regrets for what you did 10 years ago?
Praful Patel: My friend, it’s not about regret. We all work under the leadership of Ms Gandhi and I don’t think we need to give you more clarifications.