Mumbai: Amid rising speculation of yet another regime change in Maharashtra, Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly and senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar mocked at the suggestions that he would join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the event that the Supreme Court of India disqualified rebel Shiv Sena MLAs.
The buzz of a second ‘political earthquake’ in Maharashtra in less than a year (after Eknath Shinde’s coup) was sparked following a recent pattern of the NCP taking contrary stands among the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) parties and was amplified by a tweet by activist Anjali Damania on Tuesday.
In her tweet late Tuesday evening, Anjali Damania alleged that 16 rebel Shinde camp MLAs, against whom the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction has moved the Supreme Court, would be disqualified by the apex court and that Ajit Pawar would then join the BJP to give support to the saffron party.
Anjali Damania, a former Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader while lamenting the plight of Maharashtra’s politics earlier in the day tweeted, “Had visited the Mantralaya (state secretariat) today for work. There, a person stopped me and gave me an interesting bit of information. According to him, 15 (Shinde camp) MLAs are going to be disqualified and Ajit Pawar is going to join the BJP.”
It may be recalled that soon after the 2019 Maharashtra Assembly election results, Ajit Pawar was early in the morning ‘secretly’ sworn-in in the presence of then Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari as Deputy CM alongside BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis as CM.
However, this short-lived government collapsed after the NCP failed to split and the iron hand of Ajit Pawar’s uncle, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, prevailed. Ajit was again sworn-in as the Deputy CM in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance with Uddhav Thackeray as CM.
But even after the MVA’s fall in June last year, rumours of the backstage intrigue between the BJP and the NCP have not died down, with memories of the 2019 morning coup snapping at Ajit Pawar’s heels.
In a sarcastic riposte to Anjali Damania’s claims, Ajit Pawar said that he was “a very humble worker” to speak on the assertions of such “a great person” like Anjali Damania.
“This is completely baseless. There is no truth in such suggestions (of joining the BJP),” clarified Ajit Pawar, speaking to media persons in Mumbai prior to his meeting with CM Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis regarding agricultural losses owing to unseasonal rains across Maharashtra.
With the SC’s final verdict on the Sena vs Sena case hanging like a Damocles’ Sword on the Shinde-camp MLAs, the political grapevine is that the BJP may consider using the NCP as an alternative to keep their government going if the apex court disqualified the rebel Sena MLAs under CM Shinde.
It may be further recalled that despite being ideologically opposed, the NCP had offered ‘unsolicited support’ to the BJP soon after the 2014 Maharashtra Assembly election when the BJP’s then traditional ally, the Shiv Sena, had dithered on forming a government with the saffron party. Back then, Sharad Pawar had justified the move by saying the NCP offer was in the interest of providing Maharashtra with a stable government.
While a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, Ajit Pawar has maintained warm relations with Devendra Fadnavis which has caused many observers to remark that the Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly was markedly ‘soft’ on the ruling Shinde-Fadnavis dispensation.
The NCP’s ally in the MVA, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena camp, too refuted Anjali Damania’s claims. “I do not think Ajit Pawar, who is an important leader of the MVA alliance, will do any such thing. He is a self-respecting leader known for his straight talk. His (Ajit Pawar’s) political future is bright. I do not see him working under the ineffective Shinde-Fadnavis government,” remarked Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut.
Meanwhile, amid speculation that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had dropped the names of Ajit Pawar and his wife Sunetra Pawar from the chargesheet filed in the Maharashtra State Cooperative (MSC) Bank case, Ajit Pawar categorically denied he had received any clean chit in the case. “The probe is still on in the case. I want to clearly state that we have got no clean chit as yet. I don’t know how these reports have surfaced,” added Ajit Pawar.
The Enforcement Directorate has recently filed a chargesheet in the 2019 Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank (MSCB) money laundering case. As per sources, the probe agency has not named Ajit Pawar, who was the then Maharashtra finance minister, and his wife as an accused. The court is still yet to take cognizance of the chargesheet. Ajit Pawar, the former deputy CM, was one of the prominent and influential members of the Board of Directors of MSC Bank at the time.