NCP leader Ajit Pawar with chief minister of Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray after taking oath as deputy chief minister during the swearing-in ceremony at Vidhan Bhavan on Monday.(ANI)
NCP leader Ajit Pawar with chief minister of Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray after taking oath as deputy chief minister during the swearing-in ceremony at Vidhan Bhavan on Monday.(ANI)

Ajit flexes muscles in NCP, Congress tries to maintain balance of power

As expected, Ajit Pawar is back at the helm
Hindustan Times | By Shailesh Gaikwad
UPDATED ON DEC 31, 2019 12:34 AM IST

With the induction of 36 ministers into the state cabinet on Monday, the full-fledged government of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi is expected to start functioning in the new year. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has filled all the ministerial slots with a 43-member council of ministers and is expected to finalise allocation of portfolios in a day or two.

Considering the ministers who have been sworn in and the portfolios that are expected to be in its kitty, Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is likely to dominate this government. The party is likely to have key departments — home, finance, rural development, cooperation, irrigation, and social justice — that are politically important and significant in terms of administration. Besides, the party’s ministers include heavyweights such as Ajit Pawar, Chhagan Bhujbal, Jayant Patil, Dilip Walse-Patil, Anil Deshmukh, and Hasan Mushrif who have handled government for years. In comparison, both Sena and Congress have just a couple of experienced ministers. Though chief minister wields enormous powers, Thackeray’s government relies on three parties and as such, he would have to run it in coordination with the NCP in general and the NCP chief in particular.

Though the NCP seems to be in a position to influence the government’s functioning, the party may also be facing an internal power tussle, as was evident on Monday.

As expected, Ajit Pawar is back at the helm. With his induction as deputy chief minister, he will be leading the NCP’s team of ministers in the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government. According to party insiders, NCP chief Pawar had promised his nephew the deputy chief ministership when he asked the latter to return to the party after his bid to form a BJP-NCP government failed. The developments in the NCP that unfolded after his failed bid indicated that Ajit’s clout in the party remained intact and he was clearly number two in the NCP after senior Pawar. This was confirmed on Monday as he took oath as deputy chief minister. Will he follow what his uncle wants or will he flex his muscles? It remains to be seen.

While the NCP’s team has several ministers who are trusted aides of senior Pawar, Ajit loyalists such as Dhananjay Munde, Dattatray Bharne, Sanjay Bansode and Sunil Tatkare’s daughter Aditi, have been inducted as ministers. Since there is a question of propriety, as he is facing a probe by the police in the irrigation scam, Ajit may not be given the home department that governs the police. Party insiders, however, say that he has opposed the allocation of the home department to Jayant Patil or Dilip Walse-Patil — two senior ministers both of whom are loyal to the party chief. If Pawar gives in to his demand, the department could now go to a third person, probably Anil Deshmukh, a former minister from Nagpur district. If this happens, it could mean that Ajit is either flexing his muscles or that the uncle and nephew have an understanding of the power equation between them.

Meanwhile, Congress leadership seems to be trying to maintain a balance of power in its state unit. State Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat was the only party heavyweight in the government. He is likely to get the revenue department which is a significant portfolio. With Ashok Chavan making an entry to the cabinet now, there will be two power centres within the team of Congress ministers. Significantly, several Congress legislators who were inducted as ministers are close to Chavan. With Thorat and Chavan being two power centres within the state Congress, the party top brass is likely to give significant organisational responsibilities to the third important leader of the party, former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. He would have preferred a key role in the government but the party top brass has decided to use him for the organisation instead. It could be significant considering the party could be involved in a friendly tussle with Pawar-led NCP to regain its lost ground in Maharashtra.

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