Ajit Pawar, the state’s new deputy chief minister, is now firmly the boss of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Pune and perhaps the most powerful politician in the district. Not only has his appointment put on the backfoot his party colleague and detractor Dilip Walse-Patil, it’s also given him the upper hand against Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi and Kalmadi aide Ramesh Bagwe.
Walse-Patil, Kalmadi and Bagwe are all from Pune district.
Kalmadi, an outspoken critic of NCP chief and Ajit’s uncle Sharad Pawar, was asked to resign as secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party after allegations of corruption in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games. Kalmadi was head of the Games’ organising committee.
“The increased political power will help Ajit deal with Kalmadi,” admitted a senior Congress leader from Pune on condition of anonymity since his comments were against the party’s official line.
Ajit, who has been guardian minister of Pune district, and Kalmadi never got along, a rivalry intensified by the fight to establish political supremacy in local politics.
In the 2008 Lok Sabha elections, Ajit stayed away from Kalmadi’s campaign despite the fact that the Congress and NCP were allies. Despite this, Kalmadi won, maintaining his local clout.
With the appointment of Prithviraj Chavan as chief minister, the Congress’ power centre has shifted within western Maharashtra to Karad. This comes at a time when the party was lacking in strong leadership in the region to counter the NCP’s growing influence.
To allow Ajit to establish his dominance in Pune, the NCP chief kept Walse-Patil out of the ministry and made him Assembly speaker instead. How Walse-Patil deals with the power shift remains to be seen.
Bagwe was named minister of state for home in the last Cabinet mainly to give representation to Pune. But, with the Congress forcing Kalmadi to resign, it means Bagwe’s clout has diminished too.
Congress leader and MLC Mohan Joshi maintained that his party’s influence in Pune remains the same. “It’s good that the new deputy chief minister is from Pune. As far as the Congress is concerned, its presence in the city is because of its workers and it remains intact,” said Joshi.