“I propose Ajit Pawar’s name because I see in him efficient young leadership for the party and the state.” With these words, senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Chhagan Bhujbal stepped aside as deputy chief minister in favour of party chief Sharad Pawar’s nephew on Wednesday.
Ajit, 10 years Bhujbal’s junior, walked away with the job, the support of a majority of NCP legislators and his uncle’s consent.
Just two hours earlier, Bhujbal had asserted to the media that he was the deputy chief minister and had not heard of any move to displace him.
Central observers led by Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel skirted around questions over the future role of the 61-year-old Other Backward Classes (OBC) leader. “Leave some decisions to our high command. I assure you Bhujbal will continue to play a responsible role in the party,” said Patel.
Party sources said Bhujbal would be asked to continue with the public works portfolio or given an additional portfolio. He could also be offered leadership of the NCP’s state unit. Bhujbal merely said: “I am a faithful worker of the party and will accept any role.”
A national role seems unlikely as the NCP has only two Union Cabinet berths and Bhujbal is unwilling to become a junior minister at the Centre.
Sources close to Bhujbal termed Ajit’s takeover a “shame”. “Bhujbal worked hard on the OBC census issue and got the NCP some national standing. No one in Delhi knows the rest of these guys. How can you shunt out the only OBC leader from your party?” said a party functionary.
It remains to be seen how long Bhujbal keeps quiet.
It’s not just Bhujbal who may be left out in the new order led by Ajit. Home Minister RR Patil is likely to lose his job and asked to take over as rural development minister instead. Jayant Patil, rural development minister in the Ashok Chavan Cabinet, may also be booted out. RR Patil, known for his mass base, was conspicuous by his absence when Patel announced Ajit’s name. Jayant Patil left the moment the media conference ended.
Ajit himself or one of his close aides is tipped to take over as home minister. Other important posts, including water resources, energy, home and finance, will stay with the Ajit camp.