The bells have started tolling for the disintegration of the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party, once-the most potent political outfit in Maharashtra, post the Lok Sabha defeat.
At a time when the party is facing an existential crisis in the state, many of its established faces are deserting it for their own political survival, resulting in a massive change in political permutations months ahead of the crucial assembly polls in the state.
On Thursday, the party suffered its biggest post-Lok Sabha election setback when the former minister and NCP’s Mumbai unit chief Sachin Ahir joined the Shiv Sena camp.
Ahir, who has been associated with Sharad Pawar’s party since inception in 1999, was once projected as the party’s tallest face in Mumbai. But those close to him claim that he was feeling sidelined within the party after his defeat from the Worli assembly segment in 2014. His decision to join the Shiv Sena ranks also comes at a time when there was speculation that he was also to replaced as the Mumbai president.
But a bigger jolt awaits the party, with there being intense speculation that former Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and NCP’s OBC face, Chhagan Bhujbal, and his son, Pankaj, a sitting party MLA, were also in touch with the Shiv Sena leadership, and could soon switch sides as well. Bhujbal and his nephew, Sameer, a former NCP MP, are facing graft charges in the multi-crore Maharashtra Sadan scam and are currently out on bail.
Former minister Jaydutt Kshirsagar has earlier joined the saffron party, and is now a Cabinet minister in the Devendra Fadnavis government. Two other former ministers, Dilip Sopal and Ganesh Naik are also reportedly in contact with the Shiv Sena leadership, while another legislator, Baban Shinde, has been holding talks with the BJP.
The rumblings in the empire and fiefdom of the NCP had started almost immediately after the party failed to retain power in Maharashtra in the 2014 poll. After the 2019 Lok Sabha drubbing, the whine has now amplified into a screech searing through the rank and the file in the state.
The Shiv Sena is waiting in the wings, and so also is the BJP to occupy the political space lost by the NCP. Rampant factionalism and widening cracks, too, have hit the NCP’s revival plan.
Shaken by the mass exodus, Pawar’s nephew and NCP’s legislative party chief, Ajit Pawar, said on Thursday that “those quitting the party are the ones insecure about their future.” But sources confirmed that Sharad Pawar himself has been trying desperately to curb the outgoing trend. Hopefuls in the NCP camp say that some of these leaders, who are now defecting, have continually held positions of power since 1999, and that their bowing out would create space for new aspirants. But senior leaders admit that the party’s election campaign for the state poll is fast falling apart.
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