In a bid to stave off public flak three months before Maharashtra goes to polls, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Wednesday suspended its Osmanabad MP Padmasinh Patil (69).
Once a close aide of the NCP chief, Patil has been arrested in connection with the murder of his associate and cousin, Congress leader Pawanraje Nimbalkar.
The NCP’s disciplinary committee took the decision in New Delhi on the 10th anniversary of the party.
Patil will remain suspended till the murder investigation is over. “If he is absolved of charges, he will be taken back; if found guilty, the party will expel him,” senior party leader and civil aviation minister Praful Patel said.
Patil, however, will continue to remain a Member of Parliament.
The move came a surprise as the party had on Tuesday had said it would not take action against Patil.
Sources said a some party leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and Patel, convinced party chief Sharad Pawar to take the decision to suspend Patil as the media criticism was affecting the party’s image.
“We didn’t have an option as public opinion was going against us. We could not afford to ignore it in the run-up to the Assembly polls,” said an NCP leader, on condition of anonymity.
Maharashtra is going to the Assembly polls in September or October this year. The party has already suffered a setback in the Lok Sabha elections, when it won only eight of the 22 seats contested.
Under the circumstances, the best option for NCP was to distance itself from Patil. “Yes, we will be distancing ourselves from Patil,” Patel admitted.
“The political stakes are high and the Cong-NCP government was accused of shielding Patil so they had to do damage control,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.
Sources said such a move has helped Pawar in the past. In 2003, he asked then Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal to resign following allegations against him in the Telgi scam.
More recently, Pawar dropped Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil after public outrage on the government’s failure to prevent 26/11 Mumbai attacks.