Ajit Pawar faction is the real NCP, rules poll body | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Ajit Pawar faction is the real NCP, rules poll body

By, New Delhi
Feb 07, 2024 07:56 AM IST

It also caps a months-long feud between Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit, who joined hands with the BJP and CM Eknath Shinde in a surprise move in 2023

The Election Commission of India on Friday ruled that the faction of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar will inherit the original party’s name and its iconic clock poll symbol, dealing a blow to party patriarch Sharad Pawar just months ahead of general elections.

Supporters of Ajit Pawar faction NCP celebrate near Mantralay in Mumbai on Tuesday. (ANI)
Supporters of Ajit Pawar faction NCP celebrate near Mantralay in Mumbai on Tuesday. (ANI)

The order, which came on the back of Ajit Pawar’s superior numbers among party legislators, bolsters the three-party alliance ruling Maharashtra and comes roughly a year after a similar ECI decision found that the faction of the Shiv Sena headed by Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde was the real party.

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It also caps a months-long feud between Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit, who joined hands with the BJP and Shinde in a surprise move in 2023.

“This commission holds that the faction led by the petitioner, Ajit Anantrao Pawar, is the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and is entitled to use its name and reserved symbol ‘clock’ for the purposes of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968,” the 140-page order said.

The decision – which came weeks before Rajya Sabha polls for six seats in Maharashtra and ahead of the general elections scheduled this summer – was welcomed by Ajit Pawar.

“We humbly accept the decision given by the Election Commission after listening to the side presented by our lawyers,” Ajit Pawar said in a tweet posted by his faction’s official X handle @mahancpspeaks.

Supriya Sule said the Sharad Pawar faction will go to the Supreme Court against the order.

“What was done with Shiv Sena earlier is happening with us now. It is not a new order. Only the name has changed but the content is the same... We are going to the Supreme Court in the next 48 hours,” she said.

ECI also gave Sharad Pawar time until Wednesday evening to give three preferences for party name and poll symbol so that its leaders could contest in the February 27 Rajya Sabha polls for the six seats from Maharashtra.

“ECI has given us an option to give them three names and three symbols by tomorrow evening so we will of course do that,” Sule said.

The poll body followed the procedure laid down in a landmark 1971 Supreme Court judgment, which says such cases must be decided on the basis of a triple test. The same process was followed in the Sena case.

ECI found that the conclusion of the first two benchmarks were inconclusive. The first test — aims and objectives of the party constitution — was found to have failed in giving any outcome. “…Neither faction had contended that their faction was following the aims and objectives of the party constitution and the other side was violating it,” the poll body said.

The second test — that of the party constitution – majority in the organisational body of the party — was also not considered because the poll panel said while both factions had no dispute on the Constitution, they were not adhering to it. “…and thus, this test also failed to give any determinative result.”

Therefore, ECI said it relied on the third prong – test of majority.

On the organisation side, the poll body found that the composition of the party’s organisational wing – the working committee and the national committee – was shrouded with doubt due to “disputed” organisational elections held in 2022.

ECI said that while Sharad Pawar claimed a majority in the organisational wing, he didn’t bring anything on record to show when the elections to block committees and other committees were held and who won them — an argument made by the Ajit Pawar faction in their initial petition filed on July 1, 2023, hours before he took oath as deputy CM.

In that petition, Ajit Pawar had contended that two rival factions had emerged within the party on account of Sharad Pawar not adhering to the party’s constitution and rules, and Ajit’s faction enjoyed the majority support in both the legislative and organisational wings of the party.

Sharad Pawar rejected this argument and said that it is for civil courts to determine whether a political party’s organisational elections were improperly conducted, not the Election Commission. The poll panel agreed and ruled that “the Commission has no role to regulate the internal functioning of a political party and that is there is any dispute over the organisational matters, including internal elections, the appropriate forum is a civil court to seek remedy”.

But ECI didn’t accept Sharad Pawar’s election as the NCP national president in September 2022’s national convention as “nothing was brought on record to show that the elections were even held”.

Therefore, the poll body said that they “cannot merely rely on names and numbers when the very constitution of the body in question has been disputed”.

“In the absence of any coherent and substantial document brought on record which would have otherwise shown that these bodies were constituted as per the party constitution and thus undisputed, the commission proceeded to decide the present dispute case on the basis of test of majority in the legislative wing,” the order said.

In the legislative wing, ECI found that Ajit Pawar held the edge, according to the order.

The commission examined the affidavits of support filed by both the factions and concluded that the group led by Ajit Pawar enjoyed majority support among legislators.

ECI said Ajit Pawar had the support of 57 of the 81 legislators of the party while Sharad Pawar had 28. Five MLAs and one MP had supported both factions. In Maharashtra, this number stood at 41 for Ajit Pawar and 15 for Sharad Pawar. Of this number, five MLAs had given affidavits for both sides.

Among members of the legislative council, this stood at five for Ajit Pawar and four for Sharad Pawar. Among members of the Lok Sabha, the numbers were two and four respectively where one MP filed for both factions. In the Rajya Sabha, the numbers were one and three, respectively.

The total number of legislators and parliamentarians stood at 81. In all, 57 affidavits were filed supporting Ajit Pawar and 28 supporting Sharad Pawar.

ECI said that five MLAs and one MP submitted affidavits in support of both factions. Even if that support is counted only for the Sharad Pawar faction, the poll body noted that Ajit Pawar’s faction held the majority with 51 of the 81 affidavits admitted.

The Sharad Pawar faction wanted the poll body to give different weightage of the affidavits of MPs, MLAs and MLCs, but ECI ruled that it would treat all affidavits equally.

“[T]he Commission has time and again taken the value of each of the MPs/MLAs as one unit. Further, there is no authoritative method of weighing the value of a Rajya Sabha MP vis a vis MLAs... Thus, making such kind of numerical co-relation between the Lok Sabha MPs, the Rajya Sabha MPs, the MLAs and the MLCs, is not feasible,” EC ruled.

Sharad Pawar also disputed that there was a split or rift within the party, but ECI held that the affidavits filed by the Ajit Pawar faction “indicate that the party has split into two factions”.

The ECI order held strong words for the lack of internal democracy in the party and said the “issue of non-transparent functioning” plagued a “large number of political parties”.

“A majority of symbol dispute cases which come before the Commission under Paragraph 15 of the Symbols Order show that political parties are either not holding regular organizational elections, or not holding them as per Party Constitution, or have amended their Constitution in such a manner that ‘elections’ have turned into ‘appointments’. ... [As a result of such practices], the Party becomes a private fiefdom of single person or group of select individuals and the Party is run like a private enterprise. ... party workers ... lose touch with the apex level representatives,” the EC observed.

The decision marks the latest twist in the protracted political tussle that began in 2022, when the then Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance government – comprising the Shiv Sena, NCP, and the Congress – collapsed after a vertical split in the Sena saw Shinde take oath as CM as part of an alliance with the BJP. Former CM Devendra Fadnavis took oath as his deputy.

Then in July 2023, Ajit Pawar broke away from his uncle and took oath as Maharashtra deputy CM, alongside eight other loyalist lawmakers who took charge as ministers.

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