Ajit Pawar with uncle and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar at a rally at Pune on October 29, 2018.(HT FILE PHOTO)
Ajit Pawar with uncle and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar at a rally at Pune on October 29, 2018.(HT FILE PHOTO)

Has Maharashtra deputy CM Ajit Pawar regained position in NCP a year after failed coup?

Opinion divided as leaders say deputy CM post shows all is forgiven; analysts say NCP chief handling both party and MVA
UPDATED ON NOV 30, 2020 12:17 AM IST

After his first and an unsuccessful attempt to split the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) a year ago, Ajit Pawar returned to the party fold and was also made deputy chief minister within a month Before his failed coup, he was seen as a political heir of NCP chief Sharad Pawar. He was also undisputed number two after the senior Pawar. Despite his attempt to sabotage the new political coalition, the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government was formed and the partners are now celebrating one year office. The question doing the rounds is – Has Ajit Pawar regained his old position?

Opinions are divided in the NCP as well as in political circles, although there is consensus among all that the NCP chief’s authority remains intact not just in the party but also the MVA. Analysts say Ajit’s mistake was forgiven by the NCP supremo, but no legislator will leave the party along with him until Pawar is politically active. They also say that senior Pawar is clearly in control of the party and directly communicates with chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on various matters, rendering Ajit’s role to that of just another minister from the NCP. Ajit’s close aides in the party, however, insist there is no change in his position in the party as he was convinced to come back and given deputy chief ministership, the second position after the chief minister in the state government. He is also part of all decisions taken by the party leadership.

On November 23, 2019, Ajit Pawar brought what was called a political earthquake in Maharashtra by extending support to the Devendra Fadnavis-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and swearing-in with Fadnavis as his deputy, at a time when his political mentor and uncle Sharad Pawar was planning to form a three-party government by bringing Shiv Sena and Congress on board.

The government lasted barely 80 hours as most of the NCP legislators refused to side with the rebel faction led by Ajit Pawar and expressed their loyalty to the party chief. Ajit, too, returned to the party and a month later was sworn-in again in the same position in the Thackeray led MVA government.

He could extend support to the BJP as he was elected as leader of the legislative party unit, thus was replaced by Jayant Patil, state NCP president, soon after the revolt and is yet to get back the position even after a year.

“He (Ajit Pawar) is still number two in the party, if not, he wouldn’t have been appointed as the deputy chief minister. He got the portfolio of his own choice and is leading the party in the state government. Even after his revolt, he was convinced to come back and most senior leaders were involved in that process,” said a close aide of Ajit.

“He also ensured that two of his close confidantes — Sanjay Bansode and Dattatray Bharne — were made ministers. Bansode was also part of the rebel faction that had extended support to the BJP last year,” said another NCP leader, requesting anonymity.

Ajit came to prominence when around 60 out of 62 MLAs signed a letter extending their support to him for the post of deputy chief minister in 2010, forcing Chhagan Bhujbal to vacate the position. Ajit remained in that position till 2014, when the Congress and NCP lost to the BJP-Shiv Sena.

His popularity in the party can be gauged that he was welcomed by NCP leaders on his return. He also addressed a gathering of all the legislators at YB Chavan on the very first day on November 27.

“He (Ajit Pawar) made a mistake by leaving the party but rectified it and was forgiven by the NCP chief. But his mistake also brought an advantage to MVA partners as the President’s rule was lifted overnight. If he (Ajit Pawar) wouldn’t have made that mistake, the President’s rule would have continued for another two-three months and an elected government would not have to come to power so early,” said Nawab Malik, party spokesperson and state minority affairs minister.

Political analyst Pratap Asbe said, “There is no doubt that Ajit Pawar has got his position back in the party and his popularity has also not gone down. But he will have to live with a blot on his image forever. It has also become clear that no legislator will leave the NCP along with him, if he makes another attempt, until (Sharad) Pawar is politically active. No one knows what is going to happen after that.”

“Pawar made him the deputy chief minister but he himself is playing a crucial role in deciding major policies of the MVA government by discussing them directly with the chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. With this, he has limited Ajit Pawar’s role to another cabinet member in the Thackeray government. In contrast, Ajit Pawar was de-facto in the previous Congress-NCP regime during 2009-14,” said Abhay Deshpande, political analyst.

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