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NCP heading for a showdown between Ajit, old guard?

india Updated: Apr 30, 2013 01:20 IST

After a strategy meeting of the party’s senior leaders, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has indicated that the much-talked about plan, to field some ministers for Parliamentary elections to win more Lok Sabha seats, is pretty much on.

This is not the first time senior Pawar is planning to field ministers to win more seats in the Lok Sabha. This experiment had been previously conducted in 2004 to some extent, without much success. In fact, except Pawar and Padmasinh Patil, most of the candidates who were elected were young leaders. This time again, the NCP is toying with the idea of fielding about half a dozen ministers to win more seats.

However, there is a difference between the 2004 experiment and the current plan. This time, the driving force behind the plan seems to be deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar. While senior Pawar’s motive is to win a sizeable number of Lok Sabha seats, which could be crucial in the case of a hung Parliament, the nephew aims at reducing the influence of old guard in the party who are loyal to his uncle.

Prominent on Ajit’s list are public works minister Chhagan Bhubjal, rural development minister Jayant Patil, tribal development minister Babanrao Pachpute and public works (MSRDC) minister Jaidutt Kshirsagar. These ministers, of course, are loyal to senior Pawar. If they are elected to Parliament, Ajit will try to fill the vacant posts with young legislators of his choice and get more control of the NCP at the state level.

The question being asked in the party is, whether this will really help Ajit realise his dream of winning maximum seats among the four main political parties and becoming chief minister. His close aides say Ajit has planned to win 90 to 100 Assembly seats.

Despite the controversies surrounding him, Ajit has been meticulously planning his strategy for the 2014 Assembly elections. He is still in touch with some legislators and MPs from opposition parties, whom he wants to get in the NCP fold. However, several party functionaries are now wondering if his adventures will bring success. On one hand, they are worried that the irrigation scam and his recent controversial remarks over the drought situation will affect his party’s prospects adversely.

On the other hand, Ajit’s plans to corner influential leaders such as Bhujbal could prove to be counter-productive. The old guard will not take it lightly and their non-cooperation could affect party candidates in the elections. Even if the party wins five to 10 less seats, it could spell bad news for Ajit.

Either the Congress-NCP alliance could lose power in a close contest or the NCP could win fewer seats than the Congress despite the alliance winning a majority. In that case, Ajit will have to settle for deputy CM’s post again.

Ajit’s over-dependence on the Maratha card, too, is worrying his party members. Incidentally, two of the leaders targeted by Ajit—Bhujbal and Kshirsagar—happen to be from the other backward class (OBC). If OBC voters turn their back on the NCP, the party could be in trouble.

Several ministers in the NCP, including some of Ajit’s close aides, think he should adopt an all-inclusive approach like his uncle if he wants to make it to the top. He should take the old guard along. As of now, Ajit doesn’t seem to be keen to paying heed to them. Will his adventure pay-off?