Sharad Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar, who resigned as Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister on Tuesday may just have shot himself in the foot. For, behind the show of solidarity by NCP ministers who offered to quit is growing resentment at being cornered into doing so by the deputy CM’s unilateral decision to quit his post.
These NCP ministers are rather pleased that Pawar Senior has rejected their resignations. They believe Ajit Pawar should have consulted them before springing such an unpleasant surprise on the party and the government. Many NCP ministers have been similarly accused of corruption and they are the angriest.
After initial presumptions that Ajit was either grandstanding or that the NCP was putting pressure on the Congress to dismiss chief minister Prithviraj Chavan whose clean-up act has been proving detrimental to many interests, it is now becoming obvious that there is more than one layer to the latest crisis in the DF and UPA governments.
More than the war between the Congress and the NCP, or between various NCP factions, or even within the Pawar family, Ajit Pawar is attempting to escape having to answer personal charges of corruption during his term as Maharashtra's irrigation minister.
“But resigning from his posts will not help him escape responsibility. He will, sooner or later, have to answer those charges whether in government or outside it,” a senior Congress leader told HT.
Ajit, it is widely known, disobeyed Sharad Pawar's directives and tried to build his own base among NCP workers independent of his uncle.
The general perception now is that Ajit Pawar, who merely informed his uncle of his decision instead of consulting him or seeking his advice, is also attempting to upstage the union agriculture minister over the gathering tension between the two since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Ajit, it is widely known, disobeyed Pawar's directives and tried to build his own base among NCP workers independent of his uncle, after realising that Supriya Sule, his cousin and Pawar's daughter, could be the NCP president's preferred choice as heir.
Ever since, Ajit has been shoring up his resources and hoping to split the NCP with support from either the Shiv Sena-BJP combine or even the Congress on the condition that he would be the chief minister, with little response from either grouping.
Congress leaders clearly prefer to do business with the senior Pawar rather than Ajit and the bad blood between him and Sena's Uddhav Thackeray over the past couple of years has shut down the second option too.
According to a top Congress functionary, Ajit would find whatever support he seems to have gathered among NCP ministers dissipating as soon as Pawar Senior drops anchor in Mumbai for a few days and sets things right with the Congress.
That was already apparent when a top NCP minister told Hindustan Times, “You can take it from me in writing that the government is not falling. We are all returning to Mantralaya next week after our meeting with Pawar saheb this weekend.”
Pawar has made it clear that he does not mean to put pressure on the UPA by allowing his ministers to resign. But if the ministers do return to the government, Ajit either stands isolated or else looks ridiculous by withdrawing his own resignation.
Then, pressure will mount to answer the personal charges against him. Sharad Pawa r has been attempting to cut his recalcitrant nephew down to size for months. But fears of a split have kept him from taking any overt action against one of his own.
Now, Ajit may j ust have played into the hands of the master of that particular game, who may now use the occasion to cut his nephew's moorings from power. And the disunity within the Pawar clan - after the split between Bal Thackeray and his nephew Raj over an identical issue - could be the single factor that once again works to the Congress's advantage.