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52 MLAs in fold, trying to convince Ajit: NCP leaders

By Faisal Malik, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON NOV 26, 2019 12:05 AM IST

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Monday said most of its rebel MLAs have returned, and now the party has the support of 52 of its 54 MLAs. The party, on Monday, got back three missing MLAs — Narhari Zirwal, Daulat Daroda and Anil Patil — who were allegedly kept at a five-star hotel in Gurgaon by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Only two MLAs — Ajit Pawar (Baramati) and Anna Bansode (Pimpri) — are yet to return to the party.

For the third consecutive day on Monday, the NCP continued its efforts to persuade Ajit Pawar to come back to the party fold. Senior NCP leaders such as Jayant Patil, Chhagan Bhujbal, Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar, along with Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde, had a four-hour meeting with Ajit at Vidhan Bhavan on Monday afternoon. Following this, Ajit, who was supposed to take charge as the new deputy chief minister in the Mantralaya and attend a meeting with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to discuss relief measures for farmers affected by unseasonal rain, cancelled his plan and went home. The NCP is still hopeful that he will change his mind and return to the party.

However, NCP insiders have refused to give any sort of promise to Ajit for his “ghar wapsi”. “Split in the family sends a wrong signal, which we don’t want to do. Attempts are on to convince him to return. Pawarsaheb is ready to put the past behind,” said a senior NCP leader. Party chief Sharad Pawar said he had no information about the meeting with Ajit. “I have no information what transpired in the meeting. I have not spoken to him [Ajit]…I don’t know why he took the decision,” said Pawar, who was in Karad on Monday morning.

The party top brass has also discussed the possibility of taking disciplinary action against Ajit if he doesn’t agree to return. This could include his suspension from the party for a specific period or expulsion. The disciplinary committee of the party will prepare a report and recommend action, on which the final call would be taken by Pawar.

Patil, who was elected as the new legislative leader of the NCP, following Ajit’s rebellion on Saturday, said 51 NCP MLAs have signed the letter extending support to form a Sena-led coalition government, and it was submitted to the Governor. Before going to meet Ajit on Monday, Patil said, “One legislator [Dharamraobaba Atraam] is unwell and he has sent a letter of support through fax. Only two legislators — Ajit and Bansode — are yet to come back. I met him [Ajit] yesterday and am going to meet him now for the final time.”

Nawab Malik, NCP’s Mumbai unit president, said, of the four MLAs who were unreachable, three —Zirwal, Anil Patil and Daroda — have come back.

Ever since Saturday, the party has been claiming that only five MLAs have been “missing”, while the rest eight MLAs — of the 13 who were allegedly with Ajit during his swearing-in ceremony — have come back to the party fold. On Sunday, Daroda and Babasaheb Patil had released videos saying that they were still with the NCP. There are speculations that some MLAs supporting Ajit may vote against the party during the election for Speaker in the state Assembly as there will be a secret ballot voting. Responding to that, a senior NCP leader said, “Their [BJP] MLAs, too, can vote for us as they can see we have more than enough numbers.”

NCP’s strategy is to get the Speaker elected in order to rule out Ajit’s claim as the legislative party leader, in case he does not return. “Our strategy is to get the Speaker elected in the state Assembly. This will itself prove that the BJP does not have numbers and the government will not last,” said an NCP insider.

NCP, along with the Sena and Congress, has already staked claim to form the government by submitting a letter signed by 162 MLAs to the Governor’s office on Monday, as the latter was not in Mumbai. Later, in the evening, MLAs of the three parties were brought together in a show of strength before the media at hotel Grand Hyatt. This includes 56 Sena MLAs, 52 legislators from NCP, 44 from Congress, eight Independents and two from the Samajwadi Party.

In an attempt to keep its MLAs safe from poaching, the NCP also discreetly shifted around 12 legislators to Hotel Sofitel in Bandra Kurla Complex on Sunday night. The rest — around 34 MLAs — are put up at Grand Hyatt. “Keeping MLAs in different groups becomes easier to man and we can ensure they are not poached. Also, both the hotels have Sena’s labour unions which has made our job easier,” said an NCP leader. The party is said to have shifted those who they still doubt, said another NCP insider.

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