Ajit Pawar and the art of disappearing | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Ajit Pawar and the art of disappearing

Apr 10, 2023 01:00 AM IST

An irked Ajit issued a clarification on Saturday saying that he was unwell and taking rest as advised by his doctor. He also slammed the media for speculating about his whereabouts. But then Ajit and his disappearances do have political context, given the past

Friday evening witnessed intense speculation in political circles, as senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar suddenly became incommunicado. The NCP leader was expected to attend a programme in Pune but gave it a miss and remained not reachable on his cell phone, leading to much conjecture. The absence immediately became a talking point since over the last couple of months there have been speculations that Maharashtra’s BJP leadership is in touch with Ajit as well as a few Congress legislators, should it need to resort to Plan B in case of an adverse verdict in the Supreme Court on the Shiv Sena split and the legitimacy of Eknath Shinde’s government.

Mumbai, India - March 15, 2023: Leader of the Opposition Ajit Pawar step in at Vidhan Bhavan during Budget session in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (Photo by Satish Bate/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)
Mumbai, India - March 15, 2023: Leader of the Opposition Ajit Pawar step in at Vidhan Bhavan during Budget session in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (Photo by Satish Bate/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

An irked Ajit issued a clarification on Saturday saying that he was unwell and taking rest as advised by his doctor. He also slammed the media for speculating about his whereabouts. But then Ajit and his disappearances do have political context, given the past. In 2019, just as his uncle, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, was putting together an alliance of three parties to form a government in Maharashtra after the BJP-Shiv Sena parted ways, Ajit disappeared with a bunch of MLAs. He appeared the next day at Raj Bhavan to take oath as deputy chief minister with Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister in an early morning swearing-in ceremony. The government was short-lived, as Ajit’s attempt to split the NCP failed, but his disappearance and the early morning swearing-in became part of the state’s political history.

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Even before that, Ajit had done the disappearing act: in September 2019, the same day that senior Pawar had offered to go to the Enforcement Directorate office himself after he was named in a case related to alleged irregularities in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank. Pawar was preparing to go to the ED office when he was requested by the city police chief to drop the plan. The same evening Ajit disappeared, leading to speculation that he was on way to the BJP. He appeared later and told the media that he was pained by the politics and the way they were being targeted.

So, is the latest disappearance an indication of things to come?

What is not being missed is Ajit’s public statements on Saturday. He praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership at a public function, calling it “the magic of PM Modi”. He also gave his verdict on electronic voting machines (EVMs), saying there was no truth in the allegations that EVMs could be hacked. Significantly, he contradicted his party’s chief spokesperson Mahesh Tapase who, on Saturday, issued a press release pointing out that Bangladesh had stopped the use of EVMs and that political parties and civil society had doubts about EVMs in India.

Anti-corruption activist Anjali Damania on Friday posted a picture of the Fadnavis-Ajit Pawar swearing-in of 2019 with the remarks ‘Nauseating politics’ and added Fadnavis’ 2019 election tagline, ‘Mi punha yein (I will be back)’.

Speculations were rife whether Ajit would do to the NCP what Eknath Shinde did to the Shiv Sena. No wonder NCP chief Sharad Pawar has continued with Jayant Patil as chief of the party’s legislative wing. The first thing that Pawar Senior did as soon as Ajit disappeared in November 2019 was to remove him as legislative unit chief and put Patil in his place. Even after Ajit returned to the party fold, Pawar continued with Patil in the post, unlike Uddhav Thackeray who kept Eknath Shinde as the head of Shiv Sena’s legislative unit even though he was suspicious about him.

Ayodhya, Shinde and the Shiv Sena

As announced by him earlier, chief minister Eknath Shinde visited Ayodhya with his MLAs and MPs on Sunday to seek the blessings of Lord Ram. In addition to the Ram temple issue, Ayodhya and Uttar Pradesh would probably have entered the history of Maharashtra’s politics in a different context. According to Thackeray faction leaders, Shinde and his colleagues had planned a coup during Aaditya Thackeray’s Ayodhya visit in June 2022. The MLAs would accompany Aaditya to Ayodhya but would not return with him, and Shinde would announce his rebellion from the temple town. It would have been a perfect setting for the reason he would give for splitting the Sena—Hindutva. However, it was dropped later, as the Sena leadership got suspicious that something was brewing in the party. The coup happened anyway five days later on June 20 during the election to the legislative council, with most of the Shiv Sena MLAs led by Shinde making their way to Surat.

Hum saath saath hai

Although it was not planned earlier, deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis decided to join chief minister Shinde in Ayodhya on Sunday. As per their plan, Shinde was to be accompanied by his ministers, MLAs and MPs. BJP leader and Shinde’s cabinet colleague Girish Mahajan was to accompany him. Fadnavis, who was scheduled to go to Delhi to attend the party’s central election committee meeting, made a detour to Ayodhya to visit the Ram temple and the new temple construction site with Shinde and later proceeded to the national capital.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Shailesh Gaikwad is political editor and heads the political bureau in Hindustan Times' Mumbai edition.In his career of over 20 years, he has covered Maharashtra politics, state government and urban governance issues.

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