A day of who dunnit, why dunnit, how dunnit for Maharashtra
Ajit Pawar, claiming the backing of around 30 NCP MLAs, joined the Shiv Sena-BJP Maharashtra Government today
Mumbai | Hardly anyone in Maharashtra woke up today morning anticipating Ajit Pawar plotting to join the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government, as they usually did whenever Pawar’s phone was suddenly found to be out of coverage or he was found to be missing. But in a surprising turn of events, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader, former Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar’s nephew, took oath yet again as Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister (DCM) on this otherwise quaint rainy Sunday morning. Albeit, this time the ceremony did not take place secretly in the early hours but in a hurried yet brashly open ceremony held at Maharashtra’s Raj Bhavan this afternoon.
Ajit Pawar, claiming the backing of around 30 NCP MLAs, joined the Shiv Sena-BJP Maharashtra Government today - the same government that was formed when Shiv Sena MLAs split in a similar manner last year, led by Shinde and the previous Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) Government collapsed.
"The double engine government (what the center-ruling BJP calls the state governments it has power in) is now joined by a third engine," Shinde said in a statement he made after the swearing-in ceremony.
Interestingly, Shinde and the MLAs backing him had claimed Ajit Pawar’s dominance in the decision-making and his discrimination in the distribution of funds as one of the major reasons for rebelling and splitting from Shiv Sena and consequently the MVA last year. The BJP had backed these claims and blamed Pawar and other NCP leaders for corruption time and again.
Eight NCP leaders apart from Ajit Pawar, including stalwarts like Chhagan Bhujbal, Dilip Walse Patil, Hasan Mushrif, and Dhananjay Munde, took oath as ministers today. Several NCP MLAs and former ministers in fact have pending investigations by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and other central agencies against them. What happens to these investigations now that these leaders have joined the double-engine government remains to be seen.
This will be Ajit Pawar’s third stint as Maharashtra Dy CM in the same term since the last assembly elections took place in the state. This is the third time that Ajit Pawar has taken oath as Dy CM, the first one being with BJP’s Fadnavis as the CM, wherein they lasted for merely 80 hours. Fadnavis had recently accused the Pawars of backstabbing him back then. Just a couple of days ago, Sharad Pawar had indirectly accepted the same and said that ‘steps were taken to expose how desperate and hungry Fadnavis is for power'.
For Maharashtra, this is the fourth swearing-in ceremony since 2019, each of the four changing the power dynamics in the state drastically. It would be safe to say that the state has seen it all - all different coalitions that could possibly be made, (apart from the single Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA eyeing the CM post yet.)
Just like Shinde last year, Ajit Pawar has also claimed that it is the NCP that has decided to join the government and not a bunch of MLAs. He asked if the party could form a government with Shiv Sena, then what was wrong with forming one with the BJP. He also pointed out that seven NCP MLAs were part of the government with the BJP in Nagaland.
He said that he has the blessings of everyone in the party and he aims to work for the development of the state.
However, NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, in a press conference held shortly after the swearing-in, said that the actions of these MLAs are against what the party stands for. He also said that several of the MLAs present in the Raj Bhavan today were telling him that they were made to sign and they do not really wish to leave Sharad Pawar.
“However, these leaders need to inform the public whose side they are on. Otherwise, I will conclude where they stand,” Sharad Pawar said during the press conference.
Old NCP loyalists like Jayant Patil and Jitendra Awhad continue to be alongside Sharad Pawar. Awhad has been appointed as the new Leader of the Opposition and NCP’s whip.
“NCP’s integrity is strong and it stands behind Sharad Pawar,” Patil said.
NCP’s Working President Praful Patel was also seen at the Raj Bhavan today, so was NCP MLA Dr Amol Kolhe. Their sides, however, have not yet been made clear yet.
Meanwhile, Sharad Pawar has now said that from tomorrow onward, he will begin rebuilding the party from the ground, like he has done before.
“This is not new for me. I have done this before with 5 MLAs backing me. I will build the party again,” he said, also adding that we need to wait for a few days until the picture is clearer.
What remains most anticipated at the end of today is what will the ED do in Maharashtra from tomorrow. At least three NCP leaders who were sworn in today, namely Ajit Pawar, Hasan Mushrif and Chhagan Bhujbal, are under investigation by the ED at present. Mushrif was facing ED raids until a couple of months ago.
However, according to a status report by the Indian Express recently, after the Shinde-Fadnavis government came to power last year, the raids and interrogations of most of the Shiv Sena leaders who went with ED miraculously stopped.
NCP is now the second political party in the state to split up and join a BJP-powered government, that too within the same term. Maharashtrian voters now wait (without option or respite) to see whether this government lasts till the next elections, which is less than a year away.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, in its order regarding the Shinde coup on Shivsena, had asked Maharashtra speaker Rahul Narvekar, to decide on the disqualifications of the MLAs of the Shinde faction who jumped ship 'within a reasonable time limit'. As is with the Supreme Court's approach to this whole saga, one wonders not just 'when' is reasonable, 'wha't is reasonable, but what 'reason' itself is?