Maharashtra Politics: First, Two Senas; Now, Two NCPs

Finally, Ajit Pawar, who was sulking over his neglect, especially after the elevation of his cousin Supriya Sule as the NCP working president, rocked the party’s boat by staging a coup four years after his 80-hour failed coup of becoming the deputy chief minister. He chose to challenge his uncle and party supreme Sharad Pawar’s leadership and staked claim to the NCP, which has entered its 25th year of existence, even as he had emerged as a major leader involved in the exercise to unite opposition against the BJP in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election.

Ajit Pawar was facing ED probe

Ajit Pawar, who as the leader of the opposition, often criticised for going soft on the Shinde-Fadnavis government, was scared of the ongoing probe by the Enforcement Directorate against him and his wife in connection with the Jarandeshwar sugar factory and therefore, preferred to join the ruling Shinde-Fadnavis alliance. Unlike the last time, Ajit Pawar took no risk but brought along with him veterans and young legislators, including close confidants of his uncle.

Bhujbal and Hasan Mushrif also facing cases

Incidentally, Bhujbal, who, along with Pawar, was one of the signatories in the establishment of the NCP on June 10, 1999, and is currently out on bail in the Maharashtra Sadan scam case, preferred safe passage by accepting Ajit Pawar’s leadership and dumping of the older Pawar. Similarly, former minister Hasan Mushrif, whose fate also hangs in the balance as he faces arrest from the ED in connection with the Kolhapur sugar factory, chose to join Ajit Pawar and thereby become a ruling partner of the BJP, which he until recently criticised as being communal and fundamentalist Walse-Patil’s decision to associate with Ajit Pawar has stunned the older Pawar, merely to avoid ED action linked to a private milk dairy unit in his Ambegaon assembly segment.

Dilip Walse-Patil’s rise under Sharad Pawar; leaves senior Pawar for Ajit

Walse-Patil, who had worked as the personal assistant to the older Pawar when the latter was the leader of the opposition, later rose to become an MLA for the first time in 1990 and since then, has been elected from the same constituency. Thanks to his old boss, he held several departments as minister between 1999 and 2009, later becoming assembly speaker and the home minister in the MVA government. More importantly, Praful Patel, also scared about ED action, ditched Sharad Pawar and joined Ajit.

Praful Patel, Sharad Pawar’s blue-eyed boy

Praful Patel, Sharad Pawar’s blue-eyed boy and associate for more than four decades, has joined the Ajit bandwagon because he believes the Modi-led government will be back after the general elections and there was no point taking on the BJP as the MVA experiment has failed miserably.

Ajit Pawar’s recent utterances

Ajit Pawar, speaking at the recent function to celebrate the NCP’s anniversary, had targeted his uncle for the party’s failure to become the single largest party and form the government, unlike other regional parties including Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party and K Chandrashekar Rao’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi. He has claimed that almost all of the 53 legislators and MPs have been on board. Further, he has also declared that the decision to join the Shinde-Fadnavis government was taken with the blessings and support of the older Pawar, in the larger interest of expediting Maharashtra’s progress and the development of farmers, workers, tribals, OBCs. Interestingly, it was a well-thoughtout decision by Ajit Pawar, who was unsure about the NCP’s future at a time when his uncle is getting older and the party was unable to consolidate its position in Maharashtra, forget about other states. He openly ridiculed the opposition unity exercise as a farce and heaped praise on Modi for his ‘strong and able leadership which has helped India achieve spectacular growth in the last nine years’.

NCP would fight all elections with the Shinde-led Shiv Sena and BJP, says Ajit Pawar

He also went a step further and announced that the NCP would fight all elections with the Shinde-led Shiv Sena and BJP to stay relevant in Maharashtra. Even though Ajit Pawar has severed links with his uncle to pursue his ambition, the road ahead for him as well as the other legislators will be quite bumpy, as they will have to take on Pawar senior and convince voters about their decision. In addition, Ajit Pawar will have to be a tough negotiator to get seats for his faction during seat-sharing arrangements with the Shinde-led Shiv Sena and BJP, especially when the latter wants the lion’s share to achieve its ‘Mission 45-plus’ in the Lok Sabha and 200-plus seats in the assembly elections slated for 2024.

BJP kept the cards close to its chest

The BJP played its cards well by tapping into the rising discontent and fear of punitive action in NCP legislators, including Ajit Pawar, as it had done with Eknath Shinde last year. The saffron party could execute ‘Operation Lotus’ because of the operative skills of Fadnavis and with the tacit support of Modi. Incidentally, both Modi and Fadnavis had termed the NCP as the most corrupt party and last week; in fact, the PM had singled out the Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam and Maharashtra State Cooperative bank irregularities, of which the uncle and nephew were alleged beneficiaries. As far as Shinde is concerned, he will have to convince his 39 MLAs and 10 Independents about their fate and relevance in the new arrangement. There are a large number of them who are expecting ministerial berths and Shinde will continue to pacify them to avoid any trouble. The fate of Shinde and 15 legislators hangs in the balance due to disqualification proceedings. BJP insiders point out that Ajit Pawar’s decision has come as a buffer, to minimise the dependence on the Shinde faction for government’s survival.

Neither down nor out, says Sharad Pawar

However, Sharad Pawar, who faced the media after his nephew’s coup in broad daylight, hinted that he is neither down nor out but ready to revive the NCP with the promotion of new young leadership. He also disapproved of the ministerial berths to Ajit Pawar and eight others, saying that it was their personal decision and not that of the party. He also made it clear that it was against the party’s secular and progressive line, reiterating that he would step up the fight against the communal and divisive politics of the BJP and Modi.

Senior Pawar narrates ’80’s tale

Narrating his experience when 50 legislators had deserted him in the 1980s but he went on to fight the elections and won 69 seats in 1980, Sharad Pawar announced that he would start anew. The 83-year-old has announced he will travel extensively across Maharashtra and parts of India, starting with the launch of his outreach from Karad on Monday. Incidentally, Karad is the birthplace of former chief minister and Sharad Pawar’s mentor, Y B Chavan. With uncle and nephew essaying different roles now, it will be the BJP which will use every opportunity to exploit the rift and achieve electoral gains.

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