The reshuffle of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) signifies two things: that NCP chief Pawar is getting his team ready for the electoral battle, and that the uncle-nephew team is working together on it.
Sharad Pawar’s priority is to increase the tally of party MPs in the next Lok Sabha elections. The party now has eight MPs. Seniors like Chhagan Bhujbal and Ganesh Naik have been told to prepare for elections but will continue in the cabinet till then.
Inducting Koregaon (Satara) MLA Shashikant Shinde as a cabinet minister is seen as a step to create an alternate leadership to rebel MP Udayanraje Bhosale, who is on the verge of parting ways with the party.
Dilip Sopal, a Lingayat leader from Solapur, is expected to help the party retain Osmanabad and Madha (Solapur) seats. Madha is currently held by Pawar.
Another significant aspect if the reshuffle is that it has Ajit Pawar’s stamp on it. Four of the six new ministers are Ajit’s followers. Shinde is regarded as Ajit’s right hand in Satara.
“There was talk Pawarsaheb was out to clip Ajitdada’s wings but if you see the list of ministers, it is clear uncle and nephew are working together. Pawar himself groomed Ajit as a leader. Today’s events show that he is giving Ajit enough weightage,” said a top NCP functionary.
The NCP has also ensured representation to a maximum number of communities. Four of ministers inducted are from communities other than Maratha — scheduled tribe, Lingayat, charmakar and gaud saraswat. Most ministers dropped were from the Maratha community. “The representation to other communities is a cautious attempt by the party leadership ahead of the elections,” an NCP minister said.
In response to the opposition party’s boycott for not dropping all ‘tainted’ ministers, Ajit Pawar said the allegations against any of the ministers have not been proven. “These are only allegations. There are tainted ministers in the UPA government but they continue to be in office. There was no question of dropping the ministers for allegations,” he said.