NCP leader and former Minister Nawab Malik, who spent 18 months in jail over an alleged money-laundering case, is reported to have aligned himself with the splinter group of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar.
At the age of 64, Malik was incarcerated from February 2022 to August 2023 and is presently released on medical bail.
Ajit Pawar had earlier invited Malik to Nagpur for winter session
Previously, Ajit Pawar conveyed to the media that he had reached out to Malik, expressing a warm invitation, stating, "You are most welcome in Nagpur." He further emphasised that Malik, being a senior leader, is fully capable of making independent decisions on such issues.
This morning, Malik traveled to Nagpur for the Winter Session of the Maharashtra Legislature and surprised many by visiting the office of a leader affiliated with the Ajit Pawar faction within the Vidhan Bhavan complex.
Nawab Malik sits on treasury benches
Despite a somewhat embarrassed yet smiling demeanor, he engaged with numerous legislators and officials, exchanging pleasantries, shaking hands, and acknowledging others with waves. This marked his first appearance in a legislative session in nearly two years.
As the legislative session commenced, Malik took a seat at the back of the treasury benches in the Assembly, providing confirmation of his support for Ajit Pawar.
Both NCP factions were trying to woo Malik
Nevertheless, high-ranking leaders of the NCP, including those associated with Sharad Pawar, in Mumbai and Nagpur refrained from providing comments on the unfolding events. Instead, they mentioned that "he (Malik) is a senior leader and must have made his decision after careful consideration of all aspects."
Since his release on bail in mid-August, Malik had been courted by both the factions led by Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar. However, he had maintained a level of secrecy about his intentions, fueling speculation that has now been put to rest.
The Ajit Pawar faction, in October this year, had submitted a list of 42 MLAs to the Election Commission claiming their support. Nawab Malik was one among them.
From bashing BJP to becoming ally, Malik comes full circle
Malik had hit headlines when he took on NCB officer Sameer Wankhede over his raid and arrest of Aryan Khan in Coredlia cruise drugs case. Malik led the attack against the BJP while he was a minister in the MVA government, claiming that the saffron party was behind Wankhede's act of extortion against superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
His crusade, however, was cut short as he was sent to jail over alleged transactions with the sister of fugitive Don Dawood Ibrahim. He was in jail while the party split. It was DCM Ajit Pawar who tried for his release and hence, it was speculated that he would side with the Ajit Pawar faction. As it became clear on Thursday that he has joined the Ajit Pawar faction, it would be interesting to see how he manages to maintain relationships with his former rival BJP, which has now become an ally of the faction he's part of. Maharashtra politics, meanwhile, continues to throw surprises every now and then, making it clear that ideology and and long-standing views do not necessarily deter leaders from switching sides and positions.