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As its Maharashtra CM pitch sets off fresh MVA rumblings, NCP eyes a ‘distant dream’

Addressing a public function in Beed on June 4, NCP minister Dhananjay Munde created a stir by claiming that "the next chief minister in Maharashtra will be from NCP".

Written by Shubhangi Khapre | Mumbai |
Updated: June 9, 2022 8:30:13 am
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) President Sharad Pawar during NCP's OBC cell convention, in Mumbai, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (PTI Photo)

The Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)’s power play within the ruling Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition in Maharashtra has been an open secret. While Pawar, 83, has always denied his role in the day-to-day functioning of the MVA government headed by Chief Minister and Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, the former is widely considered to be the fulcrum of the coalition government.

Addressing a public function in Beed on June 4, NCP minister Dhananjay Munde created a stir by claiming that “the next chief minister in Maharashtra will be from NCP”.

Later, in her reaction on Munde’s remarks, NCP MP and Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule said, “It’s not new. Every party feels they should have their CM.” While Sule may be stating the obvious, what remains curious is the timing of Munde’s comment as it has come just after the MVA government completed two-and-half-years of its tenure.

In the October 2019 elections to the 288-member state Assembly, the incumbent BJP emerged as the single largest party winning 105 seats with its then ally Sena getting 56 seats. While the NCP secured 54 seats, the Congress got 44. The ruling alliance between the BJP and the Sena however collapsed over the latter’s demand for an equal share in power in the form of a rotational two-and-a-half-year CM tenure.

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This cleared the decks for formation of the MVA alliance involving the Sena, NCP and Congress, which formed the government led by Thackeray. While the NCP cornered the largest share in the ministry by securing 12 cabinet and 4 minister of state (MoS) berths, the Sena bagged 10 cabinet and 4 MoS positions while the Congress got 10 cabinet and 2 MoS posts.

While conceding the top post to the Sena, the NCP struck a hard bargain to clinch portfolios like home and finance. From the very beginning, the Sena stuck to the line that Thackeray would remain the CM for the entire term of five years, with party leader Sanjay Raut maintaining that “there is no question of any change in the CM’s post. Uddhav Thackeray is here to stay for entire term and beyond.” With NCP chief Pawar monitoring every development relating to the MVA closely, no one within his party has challenged the Sena’s claim in this regard officially so far.

A day after Munde’s pitch for the NCP CM, home minister Dilip Walse Patil, a senior NCP leader, said, “Uddhav Thackeray will remain CM for five years. There is no talk of changing the CM.”

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However, these mixed signals from the NCP has unsettled both the Sena and the Congress. Reduced to the status of a junior ally, the Congress leaders have often vented their resentment over the MVA affairs through public statements or in internal party meetings. The state Congress chief, Nana Patole, has taken up the issue of the grand old party getting “raw deal” within the ruling coalition with party chief Sonia Gandhi. A slew of other state Congress leaders including cabinet ministers have regularly complained to their central leaders about the Sena and the NCP “ignoring” the party.

The NCP’s recent move to join hands with even the BJP to clinch the Gondia Zilla Parishad while pushing the Congress out had drawn sharp reaction from Patole. “The NCP is trying to weaken the Congress,” has been a refrain among the state Congress leaders that they have been conveying to the central leadership. On several occasions, the Congress has aired its grievances over the NCP’s “partisan politics”, charging that from its position of power it was ensuring the allocation of more funds to its elected members for the development of their constituencies.

A senior NCP minister, who requested anonymity, said, “We don’t harbour any hidden agenda. We want to see NCP emerge as number one party in Maharashtra so that we have our own CM.” Taking the party’s tally from 54 seats up to a 100-plus target is however a formidable task under the prevailing circumstances, especially when the NCP is part of a three-party ruling coalition, he admits.

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NCP insiders dismiss any move to dislodge Thackeray midway, arguing why should the party resort to such a bid when it has a free hand to roll out various policies and schemes and ensure their implementation. Secondly, any mid-term change of guard would trigger fresh complications. The Congress endorsed Thackeray at the helm of the Maharashtra government based on a common minimum programme. There would be a question mark over the Congress’s response to any move to install a CM from the NCP. In such a case, the NCP itself will have to deal with internal problems, as it has about half-a-dozen CM aspirants in its ranks.

There are indications that while working in tandem with the Sena in the run-up to the 2024 state Assembly polls, the NCP will go all out to expand its own vote base across Maharashtra. The party reckons that if it has the numbers, the top post for its nominee may not remain a distant dream.

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First published on: 08-06-2022 at 11:00:55 am

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