Cong-NCP bury hatchet over apex coop bank board`s dissolution

Seeking to allay apprehensions of ally NCP whose leaders, particularly Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, virtually controlled the bank for over a decade, Chavan ruled out any further action against its directors.

Updated: May 22, 2011, 12:27 PM IST

Mumbai: Maharashtra`s ruling Congress-NCP combine appears to buried the hatchet over dissolution of the board of directors of the state`s apex cooperative bank with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan saying the government was
serious about reviving it.

Seeking to allay apprehensions of ally NCP whose leaders, particularly Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, virtually controlled the bank for over a decade, Chavan ruled out any further action against its directors.

Pawar is one of the directors of Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank (MSCB), whose board of directors was dissolved earlier this month by RBI following its indictment by NABARD. The NCP leader was widely seen as the controlling
authority in the MSCB.

In its audit report, NABARD had severely indicted MSCB over its negative net worth of Rs 144 crore caused due to various irregularities.

Catering to 1,873 agricultural credit cooperative societies, 572 urban cooperative banks, 31 district central cooperative banks (DCCBs) and 1,009 other cooperative institutions, MSCB forms the back bone of the cooperative
movement in the state, thus having considerable influence over rural votes.

"The appointment of administrators by the RBI is the only action taken so far which is enough. The bank is not going into liquidation. The government is serious about reviving and strengthening it," Chavan told reporters after a meeting of the state cabinet on Friday.

After the RBI dissolved the MSCB board, the weekly Cabinet meeting had to be cancelled amid the rancour with Pawar alleging a Congress conspiracy behind the decision.

Both Chavan and Pawar, nephews of NCP chief and Union Minister Sharad Pawar, avoided each other with one not attending official functions where the other was present.

Ajit Pawar sought to shift the blame for RBI action to Congress leaders, who he alleged had defaulted on repayment of loans extended by the bank for their spinning mills and sugar factories.

"In the last election, I was elected unopposed as the bank`s director. If I was involved in any irregularity, would the Sena, BJP and the Congress have facilitated my unopposed election," Pawar said at a state NCP meeting on May 12.

After a hiatus of several days, Chavan and Pawar made a joint appearance at Thursday`s meeting with the Planning Commission in Delhi to discuss the state`s plan size.

Home Minister RR Patil, who had warned the Congress of "eet ka jawab pathar se denge" at the NCP meeting, has been subdued of late and told reporters that there was no tension between the two allies or the Chief Minister and his deputy.

According to sources, Congress decided against going on a collision course with NCP after Sharad Pawar`s statement that ties between the allies will not be affected due to frictions over dissolution of the MSCB board.

"Conciliatory steps have been initiated. In the last few days, there have not been any extreme posturing to precipitate the matters," a Congress source said.

"State Congress president Manikrao Thakre spoke to his NCP counterpart Madhukar Pichad following which a meeting of Thakre, Pichad, Chief Minister Chavan and Ajit Pawar was organised where it was decided to amicably resolve the issue," he said.

A meeting of the coordination committee of the alliance partners was held on Friday night.

"Though there was no major agenda, it was organised to to send a message (to partymen on both sides) that all is well in the alliance," a Congress Minister present in the meeting told a news agency.

Sources in the Congress on condition of anonymity admit they were suspicious about the NCP`s role in the forthcoming by-election for the lone Rajya Sabha seat vacated by Prithviraj Chavan given the anger among its leaders over
the dissolution of MSCB board.

A section of the Congress felt that instead of supporting its candidate, the NCP might back an aspirant that suited Shiv Sena-BJP alliance like it had done in case of
former governor PC Alexander and industrialist Rahul Bajaj, just to embarrass its dominant ally.

Both Alexander and Bajaj had won the by-elections as independents supported by NCP, Sena and BJP on seats that had fallen vacant following the exit of Congress members.

Some Congress leaders were apprehensive about NCP this time backing RPI leader Ramdas Athavale to upset their applecart. Athavale, who is considered close to NCP chief Sharad Pawar, recently tied up with Shiv Sena-BJP for the forthcoming elections to local bodies.

PTI