Senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan has alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was afraid of Rahul Gandhi's popularity and the questions he raised on the Adani issue, and that was the reason why the PM did not want him in Parliament.
Gandhi was disqualified as a Lok Sabha member on March 24, a day after he was convicted by a court in Gujarat's Surat in a criminal defamation case.
Terming the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra as "unholy", Chavan said the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), an alliance of the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, was determined to defeat the Shinde-led dispensation in the next Assembly elections scheduled in 2024.
In an interview to PTI, the former Maharashtra chief minister maintained that all was well in the MVA, and added that it would fight the future elections as a united force.
He also said there was nothing to speculate on who would lead the opposition alliance as all partners were "equal".
The Congress has agreed not to raise the issue of late Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar as there were divergent views on him among the MVA allies, he added.
On the issue of Rahul Gandhi's disqualification as an MP, Chavan said, "It is very obvious that PM Modi is afraid of Rahul Gandhi's popularity or the questions raised by him over the Adani issue. Either way, he is afraid and doesn't want Rahul Gandhi in Parliament. You get immunity in your speeches in Parliament and it is freely reported in the media. We saw the spectacle of the ruling party disrupting Parliament and not letting the opposition have its minimum say." "Modi is scared of the questions raised and popularity of Rahul Gandhi after the Bharat Jodo Yatra. The ruling party is scared of questions raised by Rahul Gandhi on Adani and the PM doesn't want to face or answer the questions," he said.
Replying to a query whether Gandhi's disqualification will lead to the opposition unity ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, Chavan, who represents the Karad South Assembly constituency in Maharashtra, said opposition parties were coming together as draconian laws were misused.
"If it can happen to the leader of the largest opposition party, it can happen to every political leader. Unless we fight this menace unitedly, there will be no democracy and opposition left. Hope the unity goes up to 2024. We will work on friendly allocation of seats. We will try to have one party from the opposition bloc putting up its candidate against a BJP nominee," he added.
A dialogue is on at appropriate levels for an opposition unity ahead of 2024 general elections, Chavan said.
To a question on whether the MVA unity was just on paper given the buzz about Uddhav Thackeray getting special treatment at the MVA's recent joint rally, absence of Congress leaders there and reports of the lack of enthusiasm from the grand old party, Chavan said as per the understanding among the three partners, each rally will be helmed by one party.
"Protocol-wise, Uddhav Thackeray being the former chief minister enjoyed a higher protocol than other people during the Sambhajinagar (Aurangabad) rally. It was decided that two leaders from each party will speak (at every rally). It was a conscious decision of not having too many leaders on the stage. Different leaders will address different rallies in different parts of the state," he said.
There is no need for speculation. State Congress president Nana Patole did not attend (the rally) due to some other important commitments. Media and BJP can speculate that all is not well in the MVA. But I would like to assure everyone in the state that the way politics has shaped up in the last one year, we are determined to see the end of this unholy government of Shinde and Fadnavis, the Congress MLA added.
"All of us who believe in democracy have come together to fight as a united force against the current so-called Shiv Sena-Fadnavis government. Rallies will be conducted as decided. All is well in the MVA and we will face the forthcoming elections together," he said.
The three allies have decided to hold joint rallies in all the revenue divisions of the state as an attempt to bolster the unity efforts at the grassroot level. The first rally was held in Sambhajinagar last Sunday.
To a query on whether Uddhav Thackeray was the leader of the MVA, Chavan said there was nothing to speculate on who would lead the alliance.
"We are all equal. We will go without any pre-determined leader. What is important is to defeat the current government...There is no question why the Congress should feel that it is a junior partner or less important partner of the alliance. We are equal partners. Congress has mass appeal and it will be seen in the upcoming local bodies polls," he maintained.
On being asked if the Savarkar issue has been put to rest by the Congress after it was given on platter to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Chavan said his party did not provide any issue on platter to the saffron party.
"There are differences of opinion over the role of Savarkar in the freedom struggle. Congress is entitled to have its views and so is the BJP. Let the people decide about the truth of the freedom struggle. There is nothing to be apologetic about. We have agreed to disagree and agreed not to raise the issue since our partners hold different views on the issue of Savarkar," he said.
On being asked if steps were being taken to fight elections together, Chavan said, "We are seized of the requirement that we should come together. A dialogue is on at an appropriate level." Expressing disappointment over the decision of not holding elections to the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision-making body of the party, Chavan said these polls would have strengthened the grand old party and made it more democratic.
"No party will benefit if it is not run democratically," he said.
Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.