Ahead of Maharashtra elections, NCP’s Mumbai unit chief joins Shiv Sena; other leaders likely to follow suit
In a major setback for the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly elections, the party’s Mumbai unit president Sachin Ahir on Thursday joined the Shiv Sena. Ahir, who was the face of the party that has limited presence in the city, is the third NCP leader to join the Shiv Sena in the past two months. The buzz is other leaders from the NCP, too, may be on their way to the ruling parties.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and his son, Aaditya, inducted Ahir into the party at their Bandra residence. Ahir said he wanted to fulfil Sena founder the late Bal Thackeray’s “dream” and work with Aaditya to develop the state. According to party insiders, Aaditya was instrumental in getting Ahir to the party. “Ours is a common goal of development. The Shiv Sena is in power in most municipal corporations in the state. I can use the expertise I gained as a minister to develop cities. I wanted to be with the young leadership for development,” Ahir said.
Aaditya said he knew Ahir for long. “Despite being in different parties, we realised that our goal and aim is development of urban areas,” said the Thackeray scion. There are speculations that Aaditya could contest his maiden election from Worli, where Ahir has a sizable influence, while Ahir may be fielded from the Byculla Assembly seat in the upcoming Assembly polls.
Senior NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal, meanwhile, rubbished speculations over his return to the Sena.
Thackeray said Ahir’s inclusion has strengthened his party. In a jibe at the Bharatiya Janata Party, he said, “There is a way to handle politics. I want the Sena to grow, but not at the cost of morals and ethics. We do not split other parties, we win people over,” he told reporters.
The NCP has limited presence in the city, and Ahir was the party’s face. Ahir, who began his career as a trade union leader, once led the powerful Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh (RMMS), the only recognised union of textile mill workers in the city. He was also in controversy as other unions accused the RMMS of being sympathetic to mill owners who wanted to shut defunct mills.
Ahir joined Pawar when he formed the NCP and was considered close to the Maratha strongman. He was the party’s Mumbai president for over a decade and was elected from Worli constituency thrice. He was a minister in successive Congress-NCP governments. Ahir is the nephew of gangster Arun Gawli who has influence in south-central Mumbai.
Ahir’s induction in the Sena would boost the party’s strength in Worli Assembly segment. He was a three-term MLA from Worli till 2014, when he was defeated by Sena’s Sunil Shinde.
Two NCP MLAs —Jaydutt Kshirsagar and Pandurang Barora— earlier already joined the Sena. Kshirsagar was recently inducted as a minister in Fadnavis government.
NCP MLA from Shrivardhan Avdhut Tatkare is likely to join the Sena. In addition, speculations are rife in the NCP that some more senior leaders namely, Bhujbal, Ganesh Naik and two MLAs — Vaibhav Pichad, Dilip Sopal – are likely to defect from the party. Pichad met chief minister Devendra Fadnavis at his official residence on Wednesday. He was accompanied by state housing minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who has recently defected to BJP from Congress.
Bhujbal and Sopal have denied any such move while Pichad and Naik didn’t respond to the calls and text message.
Bhujbal said, “Whatever is going on about me in the media is nothing, but rumors. I am not going anywhere from the NCP. There is no such proposal from the Sena, nor did I approach them.” Bhujbal is the former deputy chief minister and a MLA from Yeola assembly constituency in Nashik.
Sopal said, “It is completely baseless to say that I am joining the BJP. These are just rumors nothing else.” Sopal is the six-term MLA from Barshi assembly constituency in Solapur district.
Naik was representing Belapur assembly constituency till 2014, before he was defeated by BJP’s Manda Mhatre. Naik is a four-term MLA from Navi Mumbai. Pichad is an MLA from Akole Assembly constituency in Ahmednagar district and also the son of senior NCP leader Madhukar Pichad.
Reacting to the development, NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said Ahir lacks the confidence of winning the state Assembly polls on his own which led him to defect to Shiv Sena. “He [Ahir] has betrayed the NCP and the trust showed in him by the party leadership. Despite being a minister and holding Mumbai president position for so many years, he lacks the confidence of winning the upcoming Assembly polls in Mumbai on his own which ultimately led to his defection,” Malik said.