The resignation of Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar has spelt turmoil for the Congress-Nationalist Congress party (NCP) coalition government in Maharashtra, with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, from Congress, declining to accept the resignation.
Ajit Pawar’s move has full backing of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who told reporters in Kolkata on Wednesday his party was not pulling out of the state government. Ajit Pawar is alleged to be involved in the Rs 80,000-crore irrigation scam in the state. NCP sources confirmed that the political offensive on the part of NCP was solely aimed at putting the Congress and Chief Minister Chavan on the back foot.
Meanwhile, NCP legislators met this afternoon in Mumbai, urging Ajit Pawar to withdraw his resignation, but left the matter to party chief Sharad Pawar.
“I wish to clarify that only Ajit Pawar has resigned and none of our ministers have. The conspiracy of those who wish to malign the NCP will soon be exposed,” NCP national spokesperson D P Tripathi told Business Standard. NCP stopped short of naming those it claimed was maligning the government.
“Ajit Pawar continues to be the leader of the legislative party in Maharashtra and is our strongest leader in the state. These allegations against him are absolutely baseless,” Tripathi added.
Even though NCP is tight-lipped about who its opponents are, its dislike for the chief minister is well-known. A senior NCP leader, who did not want to be named, said: “Ajit Pawar is a mass leader. Now that he is not part of the council of ministers, he is free to make a show of his strength. It will be a good move to show the Congress what the NCP is capable of.”
Chavan, it is well-known, was appointed at the behest of the Congress high command to have a “clean chief minister”. Chavan has little or no mass following in the state and therefore his attempts at reigning in the NCP has not gone down well with the ally.
In addition, Chavan’s talk of asking for a white paper on the functioning of the irrigation department, including the decade that Ajit Pawar was the water minister, has raised the hackles of NCP.
“With Ajit Pawar’s resignation, the Congress has got jittery. The CM’s talk of bringing in a white paper will now be put on the backburner. After all, the coalition has to run till 2014,“ said the NCP leader.
This is not the first time the NCP-Congress rift comes out in the open. A few months back, the impasse between the two parties had reached such a level that NCP Union ministers had boycotted their ministries. They were placated only after a UPA coordination committee was formed to discuss the issue.
NCP finds this a golden opportunity to flex its muscles, bolstered by the fact that it has bagged more seats than the Congress in the local panchayat polls and the municipal elections. “We will make it difficult for Prithviraj Chavan to last much longer as the CM in the state,” said another NCP leader, also on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said in the capital: “There is no question of a leadership change in Maharashtra.”