“I am alive. Does not matter if I am 82 or 92”
Geetanjali Minhas | July 6, 2023 | Mumbai
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) founder Sharad Pawar-led group on Thursday passed a resolution against the rebel faction led by his nephew Ajit Pawar during the National Executive meeting held in Delhi. It also ratified the expulsion of Praful Patel, Sunil Tatkare, SR Kohli and nine MLAs who had switched loyalties earlier this week.
“All the 27 state units are with Sharad Pawar. All have come out in his support, including the state unit in Maharashtra,’ said the leaders present after the meeting. NCP leader PC Chacko at the press meet said the party led by Sharad Pawar is intact and they all stand by him. “‘Sharad Pawar was elected the party National President,” he said.
Earlier, after sacking Jayant Patil as the Maharashtra unit president, the Ajit Pawar faction had appointed Sunil Tatkare to the post.
Addressing media after the meeting, Pawar Senior said he is the president of the party and if someone claims otherwise, there is no merit to it.
“I am the president of NCP, if someone says (that he is the president) then it is completely false,” he said with a smile. “There's no truth in it. There is no importance if someone (Ajit Pawar) says something,” said the Maratha leader. He said that whatever his group has to say it will say to the Election Commission (EC).
He said the meeting was held to keep confidence of his group high. “The rebellion has hurt the party. We have to strongly move on from here,” he admitted.
Blasting BJP over its latest coup in Maharashtra, Pawar Senior said, “Maharashtra will change those in power in 2024. They (BJP) will have to pay the cost of what they have done to the opposition parties.”
At the meeting, Sharad Pawar's faction adopted a resolution and called out the undemocratic and unconstitutional action of the BJP government and its misuse of power against the opposition
In response, the Ajit Pawar faction said the meeting has “no legal sanctity”.
Over to Election Commission?
Two days before officially joining the state government, in his petition to the EC on June 30, Ajit Pawar claimed that he is the president of NCP. The faction also sent the EC affidavits of the 40 party leaders- the MPs, MLAs and MLCs who also present at the time. He also petitioned to the EC that he represents the real NCP and therefore, the name of the party along with the symbol be granted to him. He needs 36 MLAs, a two-third majority of the party's 53 legislators, for the EC to consider his claim.
The dispute on who represents the real Nationalist Congress Party is “within the exclusive jurisdiction” of the EC and “no person within the party has any authority to call for any meeting of the National Executive/National Working Committee/ National Office Bearers / State Party Presidents till such time the dispute is finally decided by the ECI,” the statement from the Ajit Pawar led faction said.
The senior Pawar will take legal advice and discuss the way ahead for party with its leaders.
He also brushed aside his nephew Ajit Pawar’s sarcasm on his age and said it does not matter if he is 82 or 92 as he is still alive.
On Wednesday, both factions of the now divided NCP held separate meetings in Mumbai with only 14 party legislators attending Sharad Pawar’s meeting and 32 MLAs present in the rebel faction meeting. In the meeting Ajit Pawar said he now wanted to become the chief minister and asked his uncle and mentor when he planned to retire.
“In other parties, leaders retire after certain age. In BJP, leaders retire at 75. Everyone has their innings. When are you going to stop? You should also give new people a chance. If we make mistakes, tell us. Your age is 83, will you ever stop or not,” Ajit Pawar, 63, said.
He further said, “The most productive years are from 25 to 75 years. Give us your blessings, and we will pray that you live a long life. I was sworn in deputy CM five times. It is a record but the vehicle stops there, doesn't proceed further. I feel from the bottom of my heart that I should become pramukh (CM of the state. I have some things which I want to implement and for that becoming pramukh is essential."
With Ajit Pawar entering the alliance with the deputy CM post, and changing equations, there are reports that Eknath Shinde may be replaced as chief minister. However, this has been staunchly denied by both the Shinde camp as well as BJP. Shinde reportedly claimed to have the backing of prime minister, Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
Overdue cabinet expansion
The maximum size of the state cabinet can be 43. Currently there are 29 ministers, 10 from the BJP, 10 from the Shiv Sena (Shinde faction) and 9 from the NCP. NCP is likely to get four-five cabinet berths and other junior berths. While the Shinde camp leaders are still awaiting their turn in the long-pending cabinet expansion, nine NCP leaders, including Ajit Pawar, were sworn in on Sunday.
It will be interesting to watch how portfolio allocation unfolds in the coming days.
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