As the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) completes 22 years on June 10, it’s still not close to forming a government on its own in Maharashtra. Even though the NCP shared power with the Congress party for 15 years between 1999 and 2014, and is now a key partner in the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government, it is still seen as Maratha-dominated and western Maharashtra-centric party.
The NCP’s presence in Mumbai, Vidarbha and Marathwada, in particular, continues to be insignificant. Despite Pawar’s secular face, the party has yet to increase its presence among minorities, other backward classes and tribals. The party is short of instilling confidence among these communities that it will not join hands directly or indirectly with the BJP to remain in power.
In 2014, the party’s announcement to extend support from outside to the BJP even before the declaration of the state assembly elections raised serious questions over credibility and did not go down well among Pawar’s supporters.
Ahead of the assembly elections in 2019, Pawar’s confidantes and several senior leaders left the NCP to join the BJP. It was difficult for Pawar to keep his flock together but he took up the challenge and travelled extensively across the state to revive the party image and to support the Congress and other like-minded parties to take on the BJP. His efforts paid off, with the NCP winning 54 seats even as the Congress bagged 44. He even averted a coup by Ajit Pawar, who took oath as deputy chief minister with Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister on November 23, 2019. He brought back his nephew back into the party fold and orchestrated the formation of the MVA government with the Shiv Sena.
Setbacks continue as party leader and home minister Anil Deshmukh faces a CBI inquiry into corruption charges leveled by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh.
State party chief and water resources minister Jayant Patil admits that the party has gone through upheavals but said the NCP will become stronger to increase its tally in the next assembly elections. “It’s our priority to strengthen the party, address issues faced by the people and improve their standard of living. It is quite natural for any party to aim for the CM’s post,” he said.
Ruling out the possibility of a merger with the Congress, Patil reiterated that the NCP is currently engaged in increasing its base and consolidating its position in the state. “Those who have deserted us will come back,” he said.