All eyes will be on Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar today as both his own party and the Congress hope he can defuse the crisis in the 13-year-old alliance triggered by deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar’s resignation over graft allegations in clearing projects as irrigation minister.
Pawar’s meeting with party legislators, in Mumbai on Friday, will take place amid indications that Congress legislators have rallied around CM Prithviraj Chavan, the NCP’s target in the current stand-off.
With Ajit Pawar firm on not rejoining the government, party sources said his resignation is likely to be formally accepted. All other 19 NCP ministers, though, who had quit to show solidarity with him, could be asked to return to work.
What the NCP top brass is wary of is a show of strength by Ajit’s followers as there are differences between them and Pawar Senior’s loyalists over tackling the situation. While the Ajit camp wants to take a hardline approach by threatening to pull out of the government if Chavan, with his tough stand over alleged corruption in irrigation projects and the NCP-dominated co-operatives sector, is not replaced, the other faction is in favour of caution. Both camps are looking at Sharad Pawar to sort matters out, sources said.
“There is unanimity in the party that Chavan should go. But we cannot take an extreme step. It could backfire. As far as Ajit is concerned, he will have to wait longer to get results. We think the party leadership is convincing him on this,” said a top NCP functionary.
Meanwhile, Congress legislators on Thursday closed ranks behind the CM, who was firm on his stand that his party need not feel apologetic as it was not responsible for the crisis.
Chavan statement is seen as a snub to NCP leaders who have alleged that he forced Ajit to quit by driving him into a corner. However, efforts to avoid further friction were visible as Chavan avoided any confrontation with NCP workers who have burnt his effigies over the last two days.
“It (the effigy-burning) was in bad taste, but we appealed to our workers to not take the fight to the streets. We need to follow restraint because we want to run the coalition government peacefully,” said state Congress president Manikrao Thakre after NCP state unit chief Madhukar Pichad had appealed to his partymen earlier in the day not to protest against the CM in this manner.