Maharashtra Assembly polls: NCP may keep post of Assembly Opposition leaderUpdated: Oct 26, 2019, 00:34 IST
After securing 54 seats, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is expected to keep the position of the leader of Opposition in the legislative Assembly. NCP insiders said they have no plans on giving the position to ally Congress, which is far behind them in the number of seats (44). Between 2014 and 2019, the post was with the Congress, as it had more numbers that the NCP in the Assembly. State unit chief Jayant Patil, senior party leaders Ajit Pawar, Chhagan Bhujbal and Dhananjay Munde (who is currently the leader of the Opposition in the legislative Council) are contenders for the post. The decision would be taken by NCP chief Sharad Pawar.
“There is no possibility of any dispute with the NCP over the position, as our pact states the position of the leader of Opposition will go to the party that wins more seats,” said Balasaheb Thorat, state Congress president, on Friday. “Going by our rule, the next Opposition leader will be from the NCP,” said Nawab Malik, president, Mumbai NCP.
The post is crucial as the leader sets the agenda for the Opposition in the Assembly. In the past five years, the Congress failed to corner the Fadnavis government on the floor of the Assembly. Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, who the NCP accused of being soft on the government, defected to the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year. Now, the NCP expects to take control of the Opposition’s agenda inside the Assembly. “Pawar will decide who should be the leader of the Opposition, whether he wants a Maratha leader, Ajit Pawar or Jayant Patil… If Pawar wants an Other Backward Classes (OBC) leader, the choice could be between Chhagan Bhujbal and Dhananjay Munde, who is now a member of the Assembly,” said a senior NCP leader.
Jayant Patil, who handled the finance and home portfolios in the successive Congress-NCP governments, is one contender for the post. He is currently the state unit chief and is seen as an influential leader. He is articulate and popular among the NCP cadre. The second contender is Ajit Pawar, who was the deputy chief minister when the party lost power in 2014. He is virtually number two in the party after senior Pawar. He was the leader of the NCP’s parliamentary party unit that comprises party legislators from both houses of legislature. For the past five years, Ajit mostly decided the party’s stand on various issues inside the legislature. A former deputy chief minister, Chhagan Bhujbal had a successful stint as the Opposition leader in the legislative Council. He was credited for damaging the image of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance government in 1995-99 as the Opposition leader. However, Bhujbal is also embroiled in Enforcement Directorate cases over charges of money laundering. The fourth contender is Dhananjay Munde, who shocked the BJP in this election, by defeating rural development minister Pankaja Munde.
Political analyst Abhay Deshpande said the NCP will look for a clean face rather than those who were named in any of the scams. “The NCP will definitely emerge a better Opposition party. It will be aggressive in the coming five years. It will also work like a unit, unlike the Congress which is reeling under infighting,” Deshpande said.
This is the first time that NCP will get the position of the Opposition leader in the state Assembly, since it was formed in 1999. Within a few months after it was formed, the NCP came to power in alliance with the Congress in 1999. Since then, it has remained in power by registering victory in two more Assembly elections — 2004 and 2009. After the debacle in the 2014 Assembly elections, the Congress got 42 seats and the NCP’s tally remained 41, which is why it could claim the position.