The in Maharashtra intensified today with both sides engaging in shows of strength in Mumbai. The faction led by Ajit Pawar met at Bandra’s Mumbai Education Trust, while supporters of Sharad Pawar gathered at YB Chavan Centre at Nariman Point.
Out of 53 NCP MLAs, Pawar Junior had 29 MLAs in attendance, while Pawar Senior, his uncle, had only 17. Yet Ajit cannot lay claim to the Nationalist Congress Party yet because a two-third majority amounts to 36 MLAs.
The drama began on Sunday when the NCP split in two. Ajit’s faction joined the Maharashtra government led by Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis, and he was soon sworn in as deputy chief minister. All eyes were then on today’s meetings to gauge who came out stronger.
And after today, there’s little doubt that Ajit has the upper hand in terms of support from MLAs, even if some – like Kiran Lamhate – first attended his meeting and then his uncle’s. Ajit had 29 MLAs and four MLCs in total.
Later, Ajit’s faction said they had elected him head of the NCP, and removed his uncle, in a resolution dated June 30.
At the Bandra event, slogans rang out hailing Ajit, like “Maharashtra ekach wada, Ajit Dada, Ajit Dada”. Ajit then made a speech, talking about the NCP’s past trysts with the BJP. He alleged that a proposal to partner with the BJP in 2014 was “withdrawn”. In 2019, after the BJP-Shiv Sena won the assembly election, Ajit alleged five meetings took place over a potential alliance with the BJP.
He also said the decision to align with the BJP was taken “a year ago, even before Shinde went with his MLAs to Guwahati”. “I have a letter with the signatures of all the MLAs,” he claimed. The motive for the alliance was “development”, he said. “Nothing personal.”
Ajit then hit out at Pawar Senior. “You are 83,” he said, and suggested that he retire.
Meanwhile, Sharad Pawar said he wouldn’t allow anyone else to lay claim to the NCP or to the NCP’s symbol. Legislatures will come and go, he said, but the party must focus on building a new generation of leaders. He also warned his nephew that “whoever goes with BJP gets destroyed” and asked why the BJP was aligning with the NCP after prime minister Narendra Modi called it “corrupt”.
Newslaundry spoke to a handful of MLAs to ask them about these developments.
Manohar Chandrikapure, MLA from Arjuni-Morgaon constituency, said, “Sharad Pawar Saheb is our inspiration and our party president. But we are with Ajit Dada in this decision. I belong to a backward area. Since we are out of power, I am unable to do any development work there. We need Ajit dada. He is a magnificent administrator. He knows how to get things done. He has a solid hold over the government as well as administration.”
Dilip Bankar, MLA from Niphad, also extensively praised Ajit Pawar.
“He is a very capable and development-oriented leader,” he said. “His functioning style is very aggressive and effective. Within three months, other MLAs will join us and the party will be the same once again.”
Like Chandrikapure, Bankar lamented that he wasn’t able to “do work” because his party wasn’t in power in the state. “Voters elected me to work. That is possible only if we are in power,” he said. “We need regular flow of funds to complete pending projects related to roads, electricity and a dam in my constituency.”
Sunil Tingre, MLA from Vadgaon Sheri, also threw his strength behind Ajit.
“My political career is because of Dada. Whatever I have attained politically is just because of him,” he said. “He is a very hardworking and smart leader. He is a good decision maker and is accessible. He is the one who made me corporator and MLA, so I am always going to be there in his support.”
He then echoed the same line – “no funds” because his party hadn’t been in power, so “all development work in my constituency has stopped”.
Thus, Ajit Pawar’s decision to split the party and join the government “is perfectly correct”.
At YB Chavan Centre, however, Prashant Jagatap struck a different note. The president of the NCP in Pune, Jagatap said, “Ajit Dada has accepted the leadership of Narendra Modi which doesn’t suit my ideology.”
An anonymous member of the NCP’s state committee summed up the state of affairs. “I went to both places,” he told Newslaundry. “It’s very sad to see our leaders divided like this. We want them to unite again otherwise it will not be good for the party in the future.”