Mumbai: The power struggle between the two factions of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit Pawar intensified in Maharashtra as they indulged in tit-for-tat-sacking and planned ‘show of strength’ meetings.
The situation is reminiscent of the Sena versus Sena fight that took place a year ago, when a group of Shiv Sena rebels led by now chief minister Eknath Shinde defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The rift in the NCP emerged Sunday when Ajit Pawar was sworn in as the deputy chief minister in the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government, along with eight other NCP MLAs. Ajit Pawar was accompanied by working president of the party Praful Patel and MP Sunil Tatkare, among others, during the swearing-in ceremony.
The NCP is now divided into two factions and both have initiated actions against each other — such as filing disqualification petitions, appointing new office-bearers and calling for separate meetings of MLAs and party workers.
Jayant Patil, the NCP state president, initiated a disqualification petition against the nine MLAs and appointed Jitendra Awhad as chief whip of the party, in the Sharad Pawar faction.
Meanwhile, the faction led by Ajit Pawar appointed Sunil Tatkare as the new state chief in place of Jayant Patil.
However, amid the crisis, the Ajit Pawar camp maintained that the NCP national president was Sharad Pawar — very similar to the way Shinde and leaders from his camp initially maintained during their rebellion that Uddhav Thackeray was their leader.
The exact number of legislators supporting each faction is unclear.
Both factions have called meetings of MLAs and party functionaries and workers on 5 July at two different locations to establish a show of strength. Sharad Pawar has planned a meeting at YB Chavan Centre, while Ajit Pawar will meet at MET centre in Bandra.
On Tuesday, the Ajit faction will inaugurate the new party office in front of Mantralaya.
Political analyst Prakash Akolkar told ThePrint, “Age and health are not on Sharad Pawar’s side while Ajit Pawar and the likes of Chhagan Bhujbal, who grew on the charisma of Pawar, now don’t have Pawar with them.”
In his address to the media Sunday, Sharad Pawar said that he would take the fight to the people directly. Yet, later that night, Jayant Patil sent a petition to the Speaker of Maharashtra assembly, Rahul Narwekar, to disqualify the nine rebel MLAs.
On Monday, the party also initiated action against functionaries who attended the oath-taking ceremony and expelled them.
Sharad Pawar also removed Sunil Tatkare and Praful Patel as members of the NCP for “anti-party activities”.
In retaliation, the Ajit Pawar faction also sent a letter to the Speaker saying that they were disqualifying Jayant Patil and Jitendra Awhad instead for “anti-party activities”.
The Ajit faction claims that they have most of the MLAs with them. Based on that they appointed Ajit Pawar as the group leader, but they did not reveal the numbers.
“If we don’t have MLAs, we wouldn’t have gone to the governor. We are a party, we don’t need to tell the numbers (sic),” Praful Patel told the media Monday.
Meanwhile, the Sharad Pawar faction has still kept the window open for MLAs to return. Although there was confusion among the MLAs, on Monday, more and more MLAs expressed their support to Sharad Pawar on social media.
A rift in the Shiv Sena has been ongoing since last year, when Eknath Shinde and 40 other MLAs left the Maha Vikas Aghadi government and joined forces with the BJP. They staked claim to the party name and symbol and the fight went to the doors of ECI and Supreme Court.
Although the ECI alloted name and symbol of Shiv Sena to Eknath Shinde, the Supreme Court didn’t reinstate the old MVA government. The court also criticised the chief whip’s appointment and the governor’s role in inviting the Shinde faction for the swearing-in.
The case of disqualification of 16 Shiv Sena MLAs filed by Uddhav Thackeray’s faction is still with the Speaker, who has not made any decision yet.
What next for NCP factions
Sharad Pawar began his counter-offensive Monday by visiting the memorial of Yashwantrao Chavan, Maharashtra’s first chief minister and his idol, in Karad. He was greeted by many NCP workers there.
He also announced that he would tour the state and take this battle to the people.
“Sharad Pawar has a strong connect with the ground workers, something that Uddhav Thackeray lacks,” Hemant Desai, a political analyst, told ThePrint. “His reach and popularity are not limited to just a few pockets, but across western Maharashtra, north Maharashtra, Marathwada and Vidarbha, unlike Ajit Pawar and the MLAs who are with him.”
Sharad Pawar had himself said that in the 1980s, when MLAs of his party broke away and he was left with just six out of 58, he still managed to get more than 50 MLAs in the next election.
“Although this is true, it was four decades ago when Pawar was younger and didn’t have cancer. Now, his spirit is very much there but the age factor is not really on his side,” said Akolkar.
It is actually a test for Ajit’s faction without Pawar by their side, he added.
Analysts also say that when Pawar rebuilt the party in 1999, he had a team of tall leaders like Bhujbal, R.R. Patil, Dilip Walse Patil and Vijaysinh Mohite Patil with him. He does not have them now. So this is a test for the NCP chief.
As far as comparisons to Shinde’s rebellion are concerned, when Shinde rebelled, he took the support of Bal Thackeray and his ideology to break away. But for Ajit’s faction, since Sharad Pawar is alive and not on their side, taking his name would be difficult, said Desai, quoted earlier.
The sympathy factor will work for Sharad Pawar, the way it did for Uddhav Thackeray, analysts said, but added that it is only after getting clarity on the exact numbers will the picture will be clearer on where the advantage lies.
(Edited by Richa Mishra)