The public may be awed by the magnitude of the multi-crore scam in the state irrigation sector, but the corridors of power remain unperturbed by it. A day after NCP strongman Ajit Pawar put in his papers as deputy chief minister, Democratic Front (DF) leaders expended their energies in politicking rather than dealing with the scam and continuing with the business of governing the state.
The state government appeared paralysed yesterday as all NCP ministers chose to stay away from their offices in Mantralaya. Political circles were even debating the survival of the DF coalition government led by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress as a rebellious Pawar seemed to be in no mood to withdraw his resignation until the CM was replaced.
The NCP legislature party held a brief meeting and passed a resolution urging Pawar to withdraw his resignation, but soon a few shocks came their way from the top leadership of the party in Delhi.
First, Union minister Praful Patel said the party will not nominate any deputy chief minister in future.
Then, Patel reportedly suggested to the CM that he accept Pawar’s resignation.
Patel’s mentor, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, reiterated that while nephew Ajit’s decision to quit the government was correct, no other NCP minister would put in his papers.
“We will not accept their resignations,” said the Union agriculture minister.
Senior leaders from both the NCP and the Congress say that apart from his own MLAs, Ajit Pawar has the tacit backing of legislators across party lines as they are united by one common grouse against Chavan: the CM does not entertain requests for personal favours. Many legislators feel they may not get elected again as Chavan refuses to endorse their demands concerning their constituencies.
And now, even after the NCP legislature party resolution, Ajit Pawar supporters say his decision is final and there is no going back on it. This is being cited as one of the reasons why Ajit Pawar is not making public the letters given from time to time by legislators of all parties for taking up irrigation projects out of turn.
“How can he rescind when he has demanded an immediate decision on the white paper on the irrigation scam and an inquiry by any agency?” an MLA who is a Pawar supporter said.
After NCP MLAs demanded a meeting with Sharad Pawar to air their grievances, the party chief agreed to do so at the YB Chavan Centre on Friday.
According to Ajit Pawar’s supporters, their leader was not even on talking terms with the CM of late because of a number of issues.
They said they were convinced that the CM was out to damage the NCP no end, which is why he was deliberately delaying the white paper as well as a decision on other issues.
Now, even the 12 independent MLAs who support the government from outside have come out in support of Ajit Pawar.
Barshi MLA Dilip Sopal, who leads the group, said they would reconsider their support to the government if Ajit Pawar quit.
The show of solidarity was such that many Ajit Pawar supporters stormed Vidhan Bhavan when the NCP meeting was on and resorted to slogan-shouting in support of their leader.
The Congress is closely watching the situation and an informal meeting at the CM’s official residence, Varsha in Malabar Hill, was held to discuss the scenario emerging.
State Congress chief Manikrao Thakre is believed to have voiced his concern over the low number of his party MLAs in attendance.
“When the NCP meeting could muster the attendance of 62 of its MLAs, where were the 82 MLAs of our party?” he reportedly said.
Now, all Congress MLAs have been summoned for a meeting today, said party sources.
In an informal chat with media persons, Ajit Pawar said there were no differences between him and his uncle.
“No attempt should be made to paint a picture of differences with Supriya Sule either,” he said.
He also hinted he would not be going back on his decision.
CM holds on to Ajit’s resignation
Ajit Pawar’s letter of resignation was still with the CM at the time of going to press yesterday evening and had not been forwarded to the Governor. The fact that the CM was still holding on to the letter was seen in Congress circles as a sign of worry over the survival of the government. Despite both Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel endorsing Ajit Pawar’s decision, neither did the CM forward the resignation, nor did the NCP ministers attend office in Mantralaya.