MUMBAI: As it celebrates its 17th anniversary on Friday, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which has enjoyed a 15-year-long stint at power, is battling major issues — political survival and identity crisis.
According to political analysts, the image and credibility of the party, which was formed in 1999 by then expelled Congress leader and Maratha strongman Pawar, has taken a beating in the face of several scams and controversies, including the multi-crore irrigation scam, which embroiled its second-rung leadership.
Moreover, the decision to support the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after the 2014 elections indicated opportunism, leading to uncertainty over its future, ideology and ability to be the main opposition party.
“The NCP chief had created and mentored a strong second-rung leadership. But see where they are today...Chhagan Bhujbal, who has served as the deputy chief minister, is under arrest, while state party president Sunil Tatkare and nephew Ajit Pawar are embroiled in the multi-crore irrigation scam. Another senior leader and its popular face RR Patil died young,” said a party insider, admitting to a crisis.
Bhujbal and his nephew and former NCP MP Sameer Bhujbal are in jail in connection with a money-laundering case. Pawar’s political heir Ajit Pawar and Tatkare may face similar action in the ongoing irrigation scam inquiry, claim observers.
“Not only are the stalwarts facing allegations, but many cases, too, have been filed against them. Coming out of this situation will be very difficult for the NCP,” said political analyst Prakash Bal Joshi.
“Pawar gave a chance to his second-rung leaders, but they failed. Now they can consolidate their positions in the upcoming coming elections of prominent municipal corporations and zilla parishads across the state next year,” Bal said.
Political analyst Pratap Asbe said the NCP should stay true to its ideology and train its party cadre accordingly. “Currently, this is lacking, which is why the leaders are switching sides. I think this is the right time for the party to train new cadre,” Asbe said.
Asbe said supporting the BJP for political gains was a mistake. “Such steps are confusing. With this, people will never consider us for the position of the main Opposition party,” said a senior NCP MLA, adding that the party has started now taking on the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena on several issues.
Whether the NCP can really take on the BJP when the latter threatens action against its leaders remains to be seen. NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s address to his party cadre along with that of its top brass on Friday is likely to point to a direction the party will take.