Start preparing for the 2014 Assembly polls. That’s the message that senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders sent out to their cadre at the two-day conclave in Pune, with leaders such as Ajit Pawar aggressively defending government decisions and slamming allegations of graft.
Speaking in Pune on Sunday, Ajit Pawar said the party’s base needs to he strengthened in weaker areas such as Mumbai and Vidarbha, while party chief Sharad Pawar spoke of the need for fresh strategy in 84 of the 288 constituencies where he said the “non-Maharashtrian” votebank would be decisive.
Ajit Pawar said the party cadre must replicate the Pune pattern - where the NCP heads the zilla parishad, civic body and urban co-operative banks - across the entire state. “It is the responsibility of district unit heads, city chiefs and guardian ministers to step up efforts where we are not strong. In Mumbai and Vidarbha, special efforts have to be made,” he said.
Union minister Praful Patel pointed to ground realities. “The fact is we have never gone beyond eight MPs, and in the last two elections we contested 114 seats. It’s not going to be easy to be the number one party,” he said.
Ajit Pawar, who recently quit his ministerial post following allegations of corruption involving irrigation projects, also defended his decision to hand over land to Lavasa and to BJP national president Nitin Gadkari.
Responding to former IPS officer YP Singh’s allegation that he gave 348 acres of land to Lavasa Corporation for pittance as his cousin Supriya Sule had a stake in the firm, Ajit Pawar said the land was given as per market rates. “Lavasa was given 30.36 acres land for 30 years’ lease [the remaining land granted is submerged under water]. It was given at then market value of Rs18.34 lakh, but Lavasa Corporation has deposited Rs22 lakh, which is more than the market value.”
He also defended his decision to allot land to Gadkari’s organisation. “What is wrong if I have given land to Gadkari? There are several instances where land left over from public projects has been given to education trusts and NGOs. People raise questions if quick decisions are taken, they also question when decisions are delayed,” he said.
Gadkari has been accused of getting possession of a 100-acre plot originally acquired for an irrigation project from Pawar, who was then the water resources minister, within four days of his application.