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Break or going slow? Speculation rife over Ajit Pawar’s next move

By Faisal Malik, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON NOV 27, 2019 02:01 AM IST

Having resigned as deputy chief minister from the Devendra Fadnavis-led Bharatiya Janata Party government on Tuesday afternoon, questions surround Ajit Pawar’s next moves, with speculation gathering strength about whether or not Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) former legislative leader will take a break from politics.

After the senior NCP leader went to see his mentor, uncle and founder of NCP, Sharad Pawar at the latter’s south Mumbai residence late on Tuesday, state NCP chief Jayant Patil said, “Ajit Pawar is meeting the party chief. He will be discussing various issues with Pawarsaheb and we are sure that issues will be sorted out.”

Patil was clear that Ajit remains a member of NCP, despite recent events. “He [Ajit] has tweeted that he continues to be with the NCP and continues to follow Pawarsaheb. He had never left the party,” Patil said.

Before Saturday, Ajit was considered Pawar’s political heir. From handling organisational matters to election management, Ajit played a significant role in NCP. In the recent Assembly elections, for example, several Ajit supporters were given tickets by the party and were thus considered his loyalists.

After being appointed NCP’s legislative leader, Ajit discreetly extended support to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and helped throw Maharashtra politics into a state of turmoil when on Saturday, he took oath as the deputy chief minister in a Devendra Fadnavis-led, BJP government. Ajit had claimed 54 NCP legislators would support BJP in the Assembly.

However, the MLAs whom Ajit had depended upon when he had made his gamble, returned to Pawar’s fold, saying they had been misled. Eventually, Pawar managed to retain most of the MLAs and sent senior party leaders to convince Ajit to return to NCP. Even as Pawar brought back all the legislators who had rebelled, he ensured senior NCP leaders maintained close contact with Ajit. It is believed that Ajit was ultimately compelled to change his mind after a meeting with Pawar’s wife Pratibha and Sadanand Sule, Supriya Sule’s husband.

“He [Ajit] was under tremendous pressure from the family as well the party. But his meeting with Pratibha-tai seems to have played major role in convincing Ajit to change his decision. He respects her like a mother,” said an NCP leader, privy to developments.

After Ajit submitted his resignation on Tuesday to the chief minister, there was speculation that Ajit may announce his retirement from active politics. NCP has not clarified his position in the party and it remains unclear whether Ajit will regain his old status in the party. Could he still become the deputy chief minister in the new government? Or will he remain an ordinary MLA?

There are several NCP leaders who remain loyal to Ajit. Speaking at the meeting of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, senior leader Chhagan Bhujbal urged Pawar to bring Ajit back to the fold. “We need him in the party,” Bhujbal said.

Another NCP legislator said, on condition of anonymity, that Ajit is an asset to the party. “He is fine strategist and a good organizer. He is also an aggressive leader, who has long list of supporters in the party,” said the MLA.

Explaining Ajit’s decision to support the BJP, an NCP leader said, “He is a restless person and doesn’t have patience, which could be the reason he chose to go against the party’s decision to form an alliance with Shiv Sena and Congress. He must have thought that the coalition of the three parties — Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress — may not happen as the talks continued for a long time and got caught in BJP’s trap.”

Political analyst Pratap Asbe said that while Ajit is an important member of the Pawar family and the party, the former legislative leader of NCP has lost credibility.

“It would be difficult for the party to trust him and give back the old status that he used to enjoy. At the same time, Ajit Pawar also would not like to be that active in the party as he must be feeling guilty. The party may not allow him to resign as a legislator, but he may not remain politically active in the party. After all, he is an emotional person,” Asbe said.

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