A crucial meeting of the NCP legislature party on Wednesday unanimously decided to request Ajit Pawar to withdraw his resignation as Maharashtra deputy chief minister, a day after he quit and plunged the Congress-NCP coalition government into a crisis.
A resolution to this effect was moved by state party president Madhukar Pichad and was adopted unanimously.
"A resolution was adopted requesting Pawar to take back his resignation," Pichad told reporters after the meeting which lasted barely 20 minutes.
Pichad, who alone spoke at the meeting, said it was decided that the sentiments of legislators would be conveyed to NCP chief Sharad Pawar and he would take a final call.
Pichad said political situation arising in the state after Pawar's resignation was not discussed due to Kupekar's demise.
Party sources said several legislators were owing allegiance to 53-year-old Ajit Pawar are firm that the party should quit the government and extend outside support to the Prithviraj Chavan-led ministry.
On the other hand, denying differences within the NCP and any threat to the trouble torn Congress-led coalition in Maharashtra after the resignation of deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar following the allegations of a scam in irrigation projects, the party on Wednesday said it will not fill up the post and it was united in the fight against 'baseless allegations'.
Senior NCP leader and Union minister Praful Patel told a news channel that the submission of resignation letters to party state unit chief Madhukar Pichad by all the party ministers in Maharashtra on Tuesday evening in Mumbai was more of a 'spontaneous act' since they were not aware of the developments behind the resignation of Mr Ajit Pawar.
"Mr Ajit Pawar has resigned voluntarily with the consent of party chief and will continue to be the leader of NCP's Legislature Party and he is the undisputed leader", Mr Patel said.
The simmering tensions in the 13-year-old coalition came to the fore on Tuesday with the resignation of Ajit, 53-year-old nephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, following reports of scam to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees in irrigation projects during his tenure as Water Resources minister between 1999 and 2009.
20 other NCP ministers have sent their resignations to state party chief Madhukar Pichad with a demand that the party should quit the coalition.
Senior NCP leaders, including party chief Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, have said the resignations tendered by all party ministers, submitted to state unit chief Madhukar Pichad yesterday, were a result of being "swayed by emotions" in support of Ajit Pawar.
NCP has 20 ministers in the state's Democratic Front government, including the deputy chief minister.
A combo picture of Ajit Pawar (Left) and NCP chief Sharad Pawar (Right). (AFP/Indranil Mukherjee)
Don't want to put pressure on govt: Pawar
However, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar has rejected the resignations of the rest of his party’s ministers, setting at rest doubts about the stability of the Maharashtra government.
In a late Tuesday night conversation with Hindustan Times over the phone from Kolkata where he is meeting chief ministers of the region on agricultural issues, Pawar said “I am confident that Ajit has done nothing wrong and that he will come out clean.’’
Ajit has been accused of presiding over a multi-crore scam in the irrigation department and diverting water meant for agricultural purposes for other use.
Pawar told HT Ajit had called him this morning and expressed a desire to resign, pending an enquiry into the alleged scam. “It would not have been right for him to continue as deputy chief minister while the inquiry was in progress – that would have only created other pressures and more accusations. He was sure he would get a clean chit but needed to step away from the scene in the meanwhile.’’
Pawar said he asked Ajit to think it over but when he called in the afternoon and expressed the same desire, he gave his nephew the green signal to quit. Pawar senior said the resignations of the other ministers was an expression of their outrage.
"My party workers would have done that for me under the same circumstances. They did it for Ajit, too. They gave their letters to the Maharashtra president who called me to ask what he should do. I advised that this kind of pressure should not be put on the government and have asked him to reject those resignations."
Pawar also said those who accuse the government of diverting water from the dams do not understand how water management works in the country.
"If we had not stored this water in our dams, the Water Commission would have allotted it to other states. To prevent loss of our share we built the dams for storage. And water is used for three purposes: irrigation, drinking and industry Accordingly whenever requests came from various cities, villages and districts, the water supply was made available to them. Should we not have given water to Mumbai or Pune, with so many lakhs of population, for drinking purposes? Should we have allowed people to die of thirst?"
"We are serious about this So I told Ajit go ahead with the mission you have undertaken," he added.
Reports had it that Ajit Pawar, who was water resources minister between 1999 and 2009, had approved 38 projects worth Rs 20,000 crore in 2009 without clearance of Governing Council of Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC).
The NCP supremo said Ajit felt it was improper for him to continue in office while allegations against him were being probed.
"I will stand vindicated," Ajit reportedly told the senior Pawar.
Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar’s resignation took the Congress by surprise. But the party recovered from the shock and started planning its strategy to counter what it perceives is yet another pressure tactic from its ally.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who appeared to be Pawar’s prime target, held prolonged discussions with senior party colleagues, including the state party chief Manikrao Thakre, industry minister Narayan Rane and others.
Chavan is reported to have consulted the Congress high command and NCP boss Sharad Pawar on the issue. Chavan is expected to talk with Ajit Pawar, his uncle and senior Congress leaders again on Wednesday.
Thakre hoped the issue would be resolved soon. “I will talk to Ajit Pawar and find out the reasons behind his resignation. We are running the government together. In the past, we have resolved several difficult issues.”
Sources close to the CM said he has decided to be more cautious before forwarding Pawar’s resignation to the Governor. “The CM will have a tougher task to handle tomorrow if resignations of all NCP ministers are sent to him,” the leader added.
(With inputs from HT, agencies)