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Desperate NCP wants to get rid of its ministers

Ravikiran DeshmukhThe Nationalist Congress Party’s decision to seek resignations of its ministers en bloc has rattled party ranks. The Kamaraj pattern of resignations implemented by party chief Sharad Pawar was an exercise to effect changes long overdue. The famous 1963 model saw as many as six Congress chief ministers and six Union ministers resign to work for the party, after INC’s K Kamaraj, with the approval of then Prime Minister Nehru, said senior leaders needed to work with the younger lot.

However, NCP, which is going to celebrate its 14th foundation day, was unable to drop selected faces from its quota of ministers, since more than one is involved in controversies. The party had been trying to convince Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan for a complete overhaul of the state cabinet but failed because of the Congress’ reluctance to effect changes from its quota. Obtaining the mass exit can easily be termed the best Machiavellian scheme implemented by Sharad Pawar, who has been a central figure in state politics since 1978, when he first became chief minister. The party wants to drop certain faces so it can pump in young blood to avoid political setbacks.

As no individual minister was ready to demit office over charges of corruption, Pawar Sr was left with no option but to seek resignations of all ministers en masse. A meeting held at the residence of Union minister and Pawar confidante Praful Patel last year turned stormy when heated arguments took place over relieving Chhagan Bhujbal and Sunil Tatkare from their responsibilities. While Pawar Sr was keen to drop water resources minister Tatkare, his nephew Ajit Pawar was keen on dropping Bhujbal alone.

Later, Ajit himself was in the eye of storm over allegations of a scam in the state irrigation sector. A few more names such as Dr Vijaykumar Gavit and Gulabrao Deokar also attracted controversy of sorts. And NCP became the target of the opposition and media onslaught. Slowly, it became a cause of worry for the party as the nation may face early general elections anytime after the passage of the Food Security Bill, Congress’ brainchild to restore the aam aadmi’s confidence in the UPA government. To withstand the political storm the ruling parties may have to face during elections, the NCP leadership thought shuffling the cabinet was the best option to save face. Such was the cleverly executed operation that even state assembly speaker Dilip Walse Patil and deputy chairman in the state council Vasant Davkhare submitted their resignations.

It is obvious the party wanted to drop at least 3-4 faces and replace them with younger ones. Since dropping old guards may result in sending the wrong message, the party has cited the reason that it wants experienced people in Parliament. Moreover, asking senior leaders to contest Lok Sabha elections will achieve two objectives. First, the party will be able to vacate ministerial berths for newcomers, and secondly, it can make available the required funds for Lok Sabha elections, which have become a costly affair. Political heavyweights can always prove a tough challenge before rival candidates in terms of money and muscle power. The NCP has no choice but to bank on them.

Pawar wants someone from the younger lot to lead the state unit of the party, keeping in mind MNS’ Raj Thackeray (MNS) and BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, who have the ability to change the fortune of their parties. Even Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray is from the younger lot, and struggling to maintain his party’s identity. The NCP has always banked on its regional satraps who have a vast network of cooperatives and educational hubs. The Pawar-led party has no assured vote bank, unlike the Congress which has always enjoyed support of larger sections of dalit and minority groups.

It is also a reality of our democracy that the prerogative of recommending faces for cabinet berths is always enjoyed by the party high command. In our democratic set-up, voters have a right to elect an MP or an MLA, but elevating them to the post of a minister is the choice of the high command. So, the assessment of performance becomes the responsibility of the heads of government: prime minister or chief minister, or head of the party. Many a time, the party refuses to drop a cabinet member even if he faces serious allegations of corruption and non-performance. Such an exercise is always carried out in the face of elections, mainly to change public perception in favour of the party.

In the present case, it seems Chavan wanted to save himself from flak for heading a government of the tainted. Even as he has maintained his image as Mr Clean, the same cannot be said about his ministers. While talking to media persons soon after news of NCP resignations came in, Chavan said the party is expected to induct some good people. This statement assumes significance even though he said dropping or inducting someone was the prerogative of the coalition partner.

The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY 

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