The crisis in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) worsened further on Wednesday with rebel leader Ajit Pawar claiming the support of 40 of the the party's 55 MLAs. After the meeting of his MLAs and other supporters held at Chhagan Bhujbal's knowledge park opposite Leelavati Hospital, Bandra, the legislators were huddled into limousines and chaperoned into the Taj Lands End at Bandra (W) where they were kept together under the watchful eyes of Ajit dada's aides.
Sharad Pawar, on the other hand, organised a show of strength at the YB Chavan Centre at Nariman Point, where only 16 MLAs were present and the rest of the audience mostly comprised of party rank and file. Interestingly, Pawar Sr did not make any claim about the number of legislators supporting him. He has only filed a caveat before the Election Commission of India stating that he should be heard before passing any verdict on Ajit Pawar's application claiming to be the real NCP.
Significantly, at Wednesday neither Sharad Pawar nor other speakers, including his daughter Supriya Sule and Jayant Patil at the jampacked YB Chavan Centre at Nariman Point attacked Ajit Pawar. Instead, they targeted the BJP for poaching on rival political parties. The lack of bitterness against Ajit Pawar in their speeches raised many political eyebrows.
The meeting at YB Chavan Centre witnessed hundreds of NCP workers pouring in from the districts to demonstrate their solidarity with Sharad Pawar. Sources close to Ajit Pawar said he had sent a letter to the ECI containing the signatures of 40 MLAs and staking claim to the presidency of the party and its symbol- Clock. However, at his meeting in Bandra, Ajit Pawar was flanked only by 31 MLAs. His aides said the remaining nine MLAs could not make it to the meeting, but have affixed their signature in the letter to the ECI.
Ajit Pawar's speech also created considerable discomfiture within the BJP and the Shiv Sena led by chief minister Eknath Shinde since he declared that "one day" he will become the chief minister. He also advised his 83 -year old uncle to retire while, the octagenerian leader asked his nephew to be beware of the BJP, “which finishes off its allies”. While justifying his alliance with Shiv Sena, Sharad Pawar said the Hindutva of the Shiv Sena (UBT) was inclusive ``unlike the Hindutva of the BJP which was divisive and toxic."
The speeches of other leaders were full of emotional drama as expected. But, contrary to expectations there were no appeals for reconciliation.
“You are now 83, are you going to stop someday or not? Give us blessings, we need it. You are our hero. I told Supriya Sule also to convince Pawar saheb (to retire). But she told me he is stubborn. He won’t listen. Till when?” Ajit asked while advising his uncle to retire from politics. Supriya Sule countered this by pointing out that Ratan Tata, Cyrus Poonawala and Amitabh Bachhan were all in their eighties and yet remaining very active. "Age is only a number," she reasoned.
Ajit Pawar also exposed his uncle by stating that the latter was fully in the loop when it was decided to form a BJP-NCP coalition government in 2019. He disclosed that, “Five meetings had taken place at the residence of a prominent businessman. Senior BJP leaders and NCP leaders were present there. The decision was taken and I was asked to go (for swearing in). Later, everything was backtracked and instead we went with the Shiv Sena,” he revealed.
He also said that in 2017, the NCP had attempted to join hands with the BJP, but the latter preferred to be with Shiv Sena. “Our leaders said we will not go with Shiv Sena since its a communal party. But, in 2019, we were asked to join hands with the Shiv Sena. If the Sena was a communal party in 2017, why in 2019 it was alright to politically cohabit with it?" asked Ajit Pawar. The latter claimed that some of the MLAs who attended the meeting at YB Chavan centre were in touch with him.
He also praised PM Modi for the developmental work he had impleted in the past nine years. There was no other choice for prime ministership in the 2024 general elections except Modi. “Sharad Pawar should stop politics now and only give advice," he suggested.
Sharad Pawar, meanwhile, warned the Ajit Pawar that he and his supporters were committing political harakiri by casting their lot with the BJP.
“Those who join hands with the BJP and share power with it get politically destroyed eventually. To steadily weaken its political allies is the BJP’s policy. There are enough examples of this in other states. Akali Dal was with the BJP for many years, but now it is nowhere. Similar situation unfolded in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. In Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar realised it and switched to an alliance with the RJD,” Sharad Pawar said.
He also objected to the Ajit Pawar faction using his photograph on their banners. “If they have gone there, why are they using my photo? I will not let our symbol and party name fall into their hands,” he said.