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Sharad Pawar Quits As NCP Chief Amid Speculation Over Nephew Ajit Pawar

Sharad Pawar Quits As NCP Chief Amid Speculation Over Nephew Ajit Pawar

Sharad Pawar also announced a panel of senior party leaders to draw a future course of action.

New Delhi:

Senior Maharashtra politician Sharad Pawar today announced that he has stepped down as president of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the political outfit he founded and helmed since 1999, but isn’t retiring from public life yet. There has been no announcement yet on who will succeed him as party boss.

The four-time Maharashtra chief minister made the surprise announcement, with nephew Ajit Pawar by his side, at a book launch event of his autobiography in Mumbai. His decision was met with protests by NCP workers and leaders, many of whom could be seen in tears.

Mr Pawar also announced a panel of senior party leaders to draw a future course of action.

“I cannot forget that Maharashtra and all of you have given me strong support and love in the last six decades. It’s time for a new generation to guide the party and the direction it intends to take. I am recommending that a committee of NCP members should be formed to decide on the election of the vacancy in the president’s post,” Mr Pawar said in his speech in Marathi.

Party workers and leaders, however, demanded that Sharad Pawar withdraw his decision. They threatened not to leave the venue unless he rescinded his decision. Top NCP leader and Rajya Sabha Praful Patel said Sharad Pawar did not take anyone into confidence before announcing his resignation.

“I am with you, but not as NCP chief,” Sharad Pawar told emotional party workers who are insisting he take back his decision.

Addressing party leaders and workers, Ajit Pawar said that Sharad Pawar was to announce his resignation on May 1 but put it off due to the MVA rally in Mumbai. The next president of the NCP will work under Sharad Pawar’s guidance, he added.

“Pawar Saheb himself had said about the necessity of change in guard a few days back. We should see his decision in the light of his age and health also. Everyone has to take a decision according to time, Pawar Saheb has taken a decision, and he won’t take it back,” Ajit Pawar said.

Mr Pawar’s big move comes amid buzz around his nephew Ajit Pawar, a former Deputy Chief Minister, warming up to the BJP. 

Speculations of Ajit Pawar jumping ship were rife when he last month skipped a meeting of his party’s Mumbai unit, raising eyebrows in political circles about his next political move. He had later played down the buzz, saying that he was unable to attend the NCP convention as he had to remain present for some other programmes happening at the same time. He said nothing much should be read into this. BJP had then said Maha Vikas Aghadi leaders were defaming him and questioning his credibility.

Sharad Pawar’s sudden move has given fuel to speculations that Ajit Pawar may indeed go with the BJP, and that the top boss has made it easier, with his resignation, for him to do so now.

The Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena had earlier said that it won’t be a part of the government in Maharashtra if Ajit Pawar joins the BJP with a group of NCP leaders.

Ajit Pawar, to the embarrassment of Sharad Pawar and the MVA alliance, had on November 23, 2019, taken oath as Deputy Chief Minister with BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister, but the government fell without proving its majority on November 28.

Notably, Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule had exactly 15 days ago hinted at “two big political explosions” in the next 15 days.

“One (explosion) in Delhi and one in Maharashtra,” Supriya Sule, a senior NCP MP, told reporters, responding to Prakash Ambedkar’s comment on “big political explosions in 15 days”.

The BJP, which is reportedly angling for a tie-up to bolster its numbers in Maharashtra, had earlier said it would “welcome” Ajit Pawar, if he were to jump ship. 

The speculation had intensified with some MLAs expressing support for “Ajit dada”.

Mr Pawar, who served as Union Defence and Agriculture minister, is one of the country’s top Opposition leaders and had a big role in stitching together a then unlikely alliance between Shiv Sena, Congress, and NCP to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra.

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