Will he finally take the bait or stick to his earlier stand?
This was the question doing the rounds in Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) circles as the scramble began for the highest post the party is likely to get in the new government—that of deputy chief minister.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar has categorically said that the Congress would get the Chief Minister’s (CM) post and his party was likely to choose the deputy CM from the second line of the party’s leadership.
The name of Pawar’s nephew and Water Resources Minister Ajit Pawar tops the list of contenders for the post. Pawar junior, however, has not made his plans clear yet. On two occasions in the past, when the deputy CM’s post was up for grabs, he rejected it saying that he would like to be CM and not his deputy.
If not CM, he would be happy being a cabinet minister he had said. However, things have now changed. Unlike in 2004, the NCP is no more the largest party in terms of the number of legislators. And if the results of the Assembly polls are any indication, the party is losing its voter base. Ajit (50) cannot expect to get the CM’s post and hence may take up the deputy’s job, say party sources.
Until Friday, the party had not decided the time of the meeting of legislators to choose the new leader. “The meeting is likely to take place in the next couple of days,” said party spokesperson, Prakash Binsale.
Many in the party would prefer Ajit since he has the ability to keep the flock together and also keep the Congress under pressure. He is known as a disciplinarian and a no-nonsense administrator.
The final decision, of course, would be his uncle’s.
The NCP has other options, in case Ajit refuses to play second fiddle to the CM. The party’s state unit chief R.R.Patil (51), Home Minister Jayant Patil (46), incumbent Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal (62) and Finance Minister Dilip Walse-Patil (52) are the other contenders.
But given Pawar’s statement that the post would go to a young leader, Bhujbal may find it difficult to retain his seat in the deputy CM’s office.