National

Sharad Pawar Sets Out On State Tour As Nephew Enters Mantralaya

Ajit Pawar's defection from the NCP was closely monitored by the senior BJP leadership in Delhi and neither Eknath Shinde nor Devendra Fadnavis had any inkling of this switchover, sources said. Meanwhile, NCP founder Sharad Pawar has started touring Maharashtra.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar with Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde
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The entry of Ajit Pawar into the Maharashtra Government has shaken up both chief minister Eknath Shinde and deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, said those in the know of the developing political situation in Maharashtra. The defection from the NCP was closely monitored by the senior BJP leadership in Delhi and neither Shinde nor Fadnavis had any inkling of this switchover, sources said. The two leaders were in Delhi to clear the expansion of the Maharashtra Cabinet before the commencement of the monsoon session of the state legislature. Instead, they were told that Ajit Pawar along with eight others would be joining the Cabinet.

The list prepared by Shinde to include some of the 40 MLAs who had in a midnight coup helped him split the Shiv Sena, had to be put back into the files yet again. Political observer Sujit Mahajan says that the split in the NCP though similar to that of the Shiv Sena is different. “Sharad Pawar is not Uddhav Thackeray, he is a street fighter. He has already started touring Maharashtra and it will just be a matter of time before the NCP is rejuvenated. Ajit Pawar may have scored now, but Sharad Pawar will ensure that NCP stands up again,” says Mahajan. 

“Both Shinde and Fadnavis are shaken up. Ajit Pawar is an aggressive leader who is very powerful. Shinde and Fadnavis know that he can dislodge them from their positions. Ajit Pawar wants to be the chief minister. Everyone knows this. Shinde stands to lose a lot if his MLAs start going back to Uddhav Thackeray,” he adds.

As the Sharad Pawar versus Ajit Pawar faction fight entered Day 3, it was a day of high drama in parts of Maharashtra. NCP party workers supporting rebel leader and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar took to the streets in many parts of Maharashtra and staked claim to the offices of the party, presently in the control of Sharad Pawar, the founder of the NCP. In Nasik, street fights broke out between the two factions as workers of both sides attempted to lay claim to the existing office of the NCP. In Mumbai, the Ajit Pawar supporters found themselves locked out of the party office.

Led by Praful Patel, a close aide of Sharad Pawar, who was recently appointed by the latter as the working president of the NCP, those who have switched their loyalties from Sharad Pawar to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, criticized the NCP patriarch for helping former chief minister and Shiv Sena faction head Uddhav Thackeray rebuild the Shiv Sena. The patriarch has issued a statement banning the rebels and their supporters from using his photographs. There is mixed reaction from the NCP workers towards the rebellion. Many of the partymen who stood outside the NCP office in Ballard Estate, South Mumbai, were angry at Ajit Pawar, though they claimed that he is their leader.

“Ajit Dada is my leader, but I do not support the manner in which he split the NCP for the BJP. Ajit Dada has backstabbed Pawar Saheb,” says Sameer Rane, a party worker from Mumbai. “Like Shinde Saheb, Ajit Dada has fallen into the trap of the BJP. He will be a BJP puppet like Shinde Saheb,” says Rane.

Like Mahajan, Pune-based political analyst Giridhar Gadgil, too feels that Sharad Pawar will not be cowed down by the rebellion. “When the video of Sharad Pawar addressing a public meeting in the rains during the 2019 Assembly elections went viral, public support poured in and it had translated into seats. Unlike Thackeray, Pawar Saheb will not waste his time on statements, he is a man of action,” says Gadgil.
Gadgil points out that the situation for the BJP is not as strong as it was in 2019. “West Bengal continues to be out of their reach. The political situation has changed with Nitish Kumar in Bihar. In Karnataka, they have lost a state. In Maharashtra, the Maha Vikas Aghadi is a potent combination and was creating a dent in their support base. Ajit Pawar was the weakest link in the NCP. By breaking up the NCP, the BJP feels that the MVA will collapse,” says Gadgil. 

“The BJP’s own survey says that they will lose at least 50-60 seats in the Lok Sabha polls and crossing the halfway mark will be difficult. So, they are using central agencies to file cases against the opposition and break up governments and strong regional parties. The BJP’s actions in Maharashtra will have far-reaching consequences for them,” says another political observer.

However, the split in the NCP may translate into an advantage for Thackeray’s Sena as there are loud rumblings of disgruntlement within the faction headed by Shinde. A sizeable number of the MLAs supporting the chief minister had hoped to find berths in the government or head the numerous government committees. 

Shinde has been postponing these decisions as he and 16 other MLAs face disqualification proceedings. Although Rahul Narvekar of his own party is the Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and has been directed by the Supreme Court to decide on the disqualification petition filed by Thackeray, Shinde’s “wait and watch” situation has led to unease within his faction.

“We do not think anyone of us will be accommodated in the Cabinet as Ajit Dada has more bargaining power. He will make sure that his demands are met. We are in a “neither here nor there” situation now,” says an MLA supporting Shinde.

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Meanwhile, Raj Thackeray, the chief of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, cautioned that the breakup of the NCP must be engineered by Sharad Pawar himself. “All his close aides are on the other side. There is a definite indication that this may be a ploy of Sharad Pawar,” Raj Thackeray told the media. MNS partymen have started publicly urging the Thackeray cousins – Uddhav and Raj – to forget their differences and come together to take on the BJP’s political machinations.

There is a deafening silence in the BJP camp in Maharashtra. “The 105 MLAs of the Maharashtra BJP have no place. We have been pushed out of the door to accommodate Ajit Pawar,” says a senior BJP leader.
 

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