Sharad Pawar, President of the Nationalist Congress Party, gave the thumbs down to the elevation of his nephew Ajit Pawar as Deputy Chief Minister, overruling a majority of voices in the 62-member NCP legislature party that met for the first NCP legislators meet after assembly elections. Sharad Pawar has opted for status quo, and nominated Chhagan Bhujbal for the post of the Dy. Chief Minister, causing an uproar in his party. Upset supporters of Ajit Pawar demanded that they be heard by the party high command and said their views could not be dismissed by undemocratically forcing a decision down their throats. The decision to nominate Chagan Bhujbal was explained later as a way of giving weightage to OBCs, but Ajit Pawar loyalists interpreted it as an indirect way of keeping the road clear for Sharad Pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule, to emerge as the key leader in the party. To keep Ajit Pawar’s supporters in check, it was, however, suggested that Chagan Bhujbal was Deputy Chief Minister only for the next two years, and there could be scope for changes when, and if, Bhujbal was sent to the Centre. The NCP legislature party meeting, which began around 1pm at the party office, saw a clear wind in favour of Ajit Pawar. However, the first signal that he wouldn’t get the job came during the meeting itself, when the central observers declined to do a headcount. About half a dozen ministers, who saw a threat to their power from Ajit Pawar, took a cautious line and said it would be best to leave the decision to Sharad Pawar. Praful Patel made the official announcement in front of the media. Praful Patel, who played the role of trouble-shooter, later underplayed the dissent and said Ajit Pawar had also given his support to Bhujbal. However, the Ajit Pawar was not present on the dais when the party made the announcement after 5pm. The central observers defended the decision to nominate Bhujbal and said that in doing so they were balancing the caste equation. A senior NCP general secretary informed the media that Praful Patel and Ajit Pawar held a 20-minute meeting where the latter was told that Bhujbal would hold charge as deputy chief minister for just two years. Thereafter, the NCP would hand over the post to him. But supporters of Ajit Pawar described the move as a political ploy to clip his wings as he had total remote control of the organisation. The other contender in the race for deputy chief minister, RR Patil, accepted the decision with grace. He offered a bouquet to Bhujbal and gave him his best wishes. For now the decision on Chagan Bhujbal has set tongues wagging. Many say that this is a clear indication that Sharad Pawar does not want to promote his nephew Ajit Pawar as heir apparent when generation next daughter Supriya Sule is emerging as a new power centre. Even during tickets distribution of both Lok Sabha and assembly elections, a helpless Sharad Pawar caught between daughter and nephew feud was seen supporting candidates favoured by daughter Supriya Sule. This fight is one of the primary reasons for NCP poor performance in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Now that Ajit Pawar’s revolt has come out in the open, Congress is keen to cash on the family feud. That’s why it will not be a surprise if Ajit Pawar and his supporters defect to the Congress in the near future. With Dhiraj Mishra – Zeba Warsia for NMTV News.
January 29, 2010