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Sunday, Dec 15, 2019

After homecoming, Ajit Pawar back to being ‘No. 2’ in NCP

With the Congress giving up its claim to the deputy chief minister’s post, Ajit is believed to get it in the coming days. The Congress has accepted the Speaker’s position, as decided between the two parties earlier.

mumbai Updated: Dec 01, 2019 06:42 IST
Faisal Malik
Faisal Malik
Hindustan Times, Mumba
NCP leader Ajit Pawar gestures as he leaves after the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance won the floor test in the Maharashtra Assembly, outside the Vidhan Bhawan in Mumbai, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.
NCP leader Ajit Pawar gestures as he leaves after the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance won the floor test in the Maharashtra Assembly, outside the Vidhan Bhawan in Mumbai, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (PTI FILE)
         

Ajit Pawar seems to be gradually taking over his old position as the ‘number two’ in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), after party supremo Sharad Pawar. After his failed rebellion and ‘return’ to the party, he is back to his old role — holding important meetings and addressing legislators at various occasions. He is also one of the key leaders who devised the strategy for the confidence motion held on Saturday, and the Speaker election, which to be held in the state Assembly on Sunday.

With the Congress giving up its claim to the deputy chief minister’s post, Ajit is believed to get it in the coming days. The Congress has accepted the Speaker’s position, as decided between the two parties earlier.

Ajit held parleys with the newly-selected Pro-tem Speaker, Dilip Walse-Patil and legislative council chairman Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar, and devised a strategy that was adopted for the confidence motion passed on the very first day of the special session of the state legislature. He also attended the business advisory committee (BAC) meeting of the state legislature on Friday. The meeting was also attended by chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and other cabinet ministers.

“In the meeting [on Friday], it was decided that the floor test should be through the head count process, and not the voice vote. With this, the BJP will get no chance to poach any of the MLAs and everything will be open before the public. Ajit Pawar also advised that the floor test be telecast live on all the news channels, to which everyone agreed,” said a senior leader, privy to the development.

The strategy discussed in the BAC meeting was approved in the state cabinet meeting, held immediately after that.

On Saturday morning, Ajit addressed NCP MLAs and explained the voting process to be adopted for the confidence motion, along with party leaders Chhagan Bhujbal and Jayant Patil. A mock drill of the head count process adopted for the floor test in the state Assembly was also conducted. Four NCP leaders — Ajit, Patil, Bhujbal and Dilip Walse-Patil — again met in the evening on Saturday to formalise the party’s strategy for the Speaker’s election.

The leaders of the three parties also decided on a show of strength by bringing around 170 MLAs who will vote in favour of the confidence motion. This includes 154 MLAs of the three parties (Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress), two legislators from the Samajwadi Party, three from the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi, two MLAs from Prahar Janshakti Party and eight other Independents. Some of the independent MLAs voluntarily supported the ruling coalition while some were contacted to reach the 170 figure, said an insider.

Before holding his first cabinet meeting on Thursday evening, CM Thackeray also held a meeting with senior leaders from all the three parties and Ajit was one of them. “It was decided that a Pro-tem Speaker be appointed from any of the two parties — NCP and Congress — to be on the safer side and there was unanimity on three names Dilip Walse-Patil, Ajit Pawar and KC Padvi,” said a senior leader, privy to the development.

All the names were cleared in the cabinet meeting thereafter and sent to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on Friday morning. The Governor then called up Walse-Patil over the phone as his name was on the top of the list. Walse-Patil agreed to take up the responsibility and based on the recommendation from the state cabinet, the Governor approved his name as the Pro-tem Speaker, the senior leader said.

However, it seems difficult for Ajit to become the deputy chief minister soon. According to the NCP, senior Pawar is not keen on the idea of a cabinet expansion with immediate effect. He has asked senior NCP leaders to wait till the conclusion of the winter session of the state legislature, which is likely to start from December 16.

Key NCP leaders have also suggested Pawar allow five more leaders from each of the parties (total 15 ministers) to be sworn in as ministers before the commencement of the winter session as it will become difficult for them to complete the business of the both Houses with a strength of only six ministers. “Pawar is yet to take a call on the suggestion,” said a key NCP leader.

Ajit, who is also a former deputy chief minister, had caused a political turmoil in the state and put all three parties — Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress — in a quandary, by extending support to the Bharatiya Janata Party last week. He also took oath as the deputy chief minister, along with Devendra Fadnavis , who was sworn in as the chief minister last Saturday. He was stripped from his position as the NCP legislative party leader, following the rebellion. Jayant Patil, a close aide of the NCP chief, was trusted with the responsibility.

Being a legislative party, Patil was expected to get the deputy chief minister’s post, but he was sworn in as a minister, hinting that the NCP leadership may have reserved the position for Ajit.

A few NCP leaders have openly demanded that Ajit become the deputy chief minister in the Uddhav Thackeray-led government.