On Saturday, the power tussle within Maharashtra’s most powerful political family, the Pawar clan, came out in the open, with Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit, leading a faction of MLAs, split ranks to join hands with the BJP and form the government in the state.
While some questions are still being raised on whether Sharad Pawar was aware of Ajit’s actions, the NCP patriarch, in a show of strength, made sure that most of the MLAs who had gone with his nephew returned to the party. At a party meeting where disciplinary action was initiated against Ajit, 42 out of the party’s 54 MLAs were present.
Maharashtra NCP president Jayant Patil told reporters that six others were in touch with the party, while admitting that five could not be accounted for. Citing the day’s developments, Patil, however, said he was confident that all of them would return to the party fold.
But while their physical presence has been accounted for, the key test would be to gauge where their loyalties lie. This would have to wait till the Assembly convenes and a floor test is ordered by the new Speaker.
According to sources, Sharad Pawar had swung into action almost immediately after the news of Ajit’s rebellion broke. With close aides including Praful Patel, he first took a headcount of the MLAs to ascertain the number of MLAs who had moved to Ajit’s side.
The sources said his move to parade four of the MLAs who had accompanied Ajit to Raj Bhavan before the media, and his firm message that all those who defect will face a united Opposition, tilted the scales. MLAs started trickling in at YB Chavan hall opposite Mantralaya, where the NCP had convened a meeting at 4.30 pm.
When most of the MLAs had returned, Sharad Pawar deployed senior leader and Ajit’s close confidants including party MP Sunil Tatkare, former minister Hasan Mushrif, along with former Assembly Speaker Dilip Walse-Patil to reach out to Ajit Pawar, who had moved to a relative’s apartment in South Mumbai after the swearing-in.
Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule had an emotional message for her cousin Ajit in the evening. “Do not split the family for the sake of power. Do anything but resign from the deputy chief minister’s post. For the sake of politics, do not divide our family. Whatever you want can be discussed and resolved. You resign and return,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Sule’s status on the WhatsApp messaging app read: “Party and family split”. Another status message posted moments later read: “Who do (you) trust in life(?) never felt so cheated in my life..defended him, loved him, look what I get in return”.
Sule’s emotional message came after Tatkare, Mushrif and Walse-Patil failed to persuade Ajit to resign from the post. Sources said that Ajit, in fact, sent a message through the three leaders, urging his uncle to join hands with the BJP and avoid a split in the party.
At YB Chavan hall where the senior Pawar and other NCP leaders were camping for the entire day, party workers raised slogans against Ajit, while cheering Sharad Pawar. “I’m a close follower of Ajit Pawar. But what he has done is absolultely wrong,” a party worker said.
In the evening, party MLAs adopted a resolution against Ajit’s actions, stripping him of the party legislature leader’s post. For now, Jayant Patil has been given all powers to issue the party whip.