Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar’s nephew and senior party leader Ajit Pawar took oath as the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra on Monday, for the second time in a span of a month.
This is 60-year-old Pawar’s fourth tenure as the deputy CM, including the last three-day stint, when in an overnight coup, he took oath along with Devendra Fadnavis as the CM on November 23. With Pawar, a seven-term MLA, assuming the second position in the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government led by Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, it is now clear that his “rebellion” of joining the Fadnavis government clandestinely has been forgiven by his uncle and party chief Sharad Pawar.
Pawar first became the deputy CM in November 2010, after flexing his muscle within the party organization, thwarting his uncle’s plan to again give senior leader Chhagan Bhujbal the post. Pawar, in a surprise move, resigned in September 2012, amid allegations of the irrigation scam. He joined the government back as the deputy CM within three months, after he orchestrated a clean chit for himself through a white paper on irrigation prepared by his government.
This year, too, just before joining hands with Fadnavis, Pawar, seen as a mercurial and controversial politician, had resigned as an MLA ahead of the elections and was incommunicado for a while, upset with his party for not defending him in the Maharashtra State Co-operative Bank scam. Pawar had forced his uncle to give his son, Parth, a candidature in the Lok Sabha polls, and Parth’s defeat with a big margin had put Ajit Pawar on the back foot. His elevation as the deputy CM is a comeback for the embattled politician in many ways.
“Once cabinet portfolios are distributed, the MVA government can start work properly. I think all three parties have tried to balance regional and caste dynamics, while keeping the merit of the candidate in mind. I will follow the party’s orders and do justice to any portfolio which is given to me,” said Pawar.
While he is learnt to have been keen on home department, it seems unlikely. Recently, the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) gave Pawar a clean chit in the irrigation scam in Vidarbha. The affidavit absolving Pawar of any responsibility in the multi-crore scam was filed by the ACB in the Nagpur High Court a day after the Pawar-Fadnavis government collapsed on November 26. However, the court has not yet ratified the clean chit. Pawar also continues to be named as an accused in a complaint filed by the economic offences wing and enforcement directorate in the MSC Bank scam. Despite the controversies, Pawar enjoys a significant following among NCP legislators as well as a section in the bureaucracy for “quick-decision making and accessibility”. He brings with him over 15 years of administrative experience.
“Ajit dada is a quick decision-maker, he doesn’t like to keep any files or decisions pending. From helping fund elections for party MLAs to resolving administrative issues in our constituencies, he will be the go-to person in this government to get things done,” said a three-term NCP MLA.
A former Congress minister, who worked with Pawar as a junior minister in the earlier government said, “He was the most hard working minister in the government; he used to start work in Mantralaya at 7am. While he has his flaws, there is little doubt that he will now take over the government and drive all administrative decisions.” “With Ajit Pawar being made the deputy CM, there is little doubt over who is in charge of the NCP in the state. Despite his rebellion, his uncle had to concede him this post, given the substantial following he enjoys within the party,” said Professor Nitin Birmal, political analyst based in Pune.
Another political analyst Surendra Jondhale said that Pawar as the deputy CM would also keep a subtle check on Thackeray’s chief ministerial office. “It remains to be seen how the equation between Pawar and Thackeray pans out. But he is an assertive and aggressive leader and is expected to dominate the Thackeray government,” said Jondhale.
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