It was 3.45 pm on Friday and there was complete quiet at Deogiri, the official residence of Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar at Malabar Hill. Except NCP ministers, no one - not even bodyguards and personal assistants - were allowed to stay back in the bungalow. Around 4 pm, the silence was interrupted. Ajit Pawar entered the meeting hall. Without uttering much, he distributed copies of resignation letters among ministers. The ministers had no option but to sign the letters and hand them back to Pawar Jr.
Except Minister of State Bhaskar Jadhav, all the 19 ministers put in their papers. Jadhav was away, and cited bad weather as the reason behind his chopper not taking off. But his resignation is said to have been received through facsimile. It only contained two lines, stating, “I wish to submit my resignation on personal grounds.” After some time entered party chief Sharad Pawar, and asked whether Jadhav was present. After hearing the response, he made a statement about how other political parties had young faces as their chiefs.
“Madhukar Pichad, despite his health and advancing age, has done a good job as the state NCP chief. We need to have a young face now,” said the Union agriculture minister. The names doing rounds for the post are: R R Patil and Bhaskar Jadhav. After his speech on preparations for the next elections, the meeting was over. Not a word was discussed about the resignations. Just like that, the mass exit had been attained.
On anvil for 2 months
The NCP’s decision, if party sources are to be believed, was an act borne of desperation. And, the man who brought about the mass exit, albeit unwittingly, is none other than Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who is believed to have been delaying the reshuffle exercise despite NCP’s insistence on it. The party was left with no option but to seek resignations of all the members to enable the CM to go for it, said a minister. According to Chavan, who spoke with a group of journalists at his official residence Varsha on Friday, the NCP’s rearrangement would be over by next week.
The Pawar-led party wants to drop three or four faces, and their letters of resignations would reach the CM on Saturday. The NCP had been asking the CM for a cabinet juggle as part of pre-election preparations for two months. About changes in portfolios for Congress ministers, the chief minister remained non-committal. “I will have to speak to the party high command,” was his reply. Asked if he was ruling out any changes in the Congress, he said he was unable to confirm it. “Such exercises are carried out to strengthen the party,” he said. “The NCP wants certain changes and they have informed me about it.”
On June 4, soon after the inauguration of Maharashtra Sadan, Sharad Pawar asked his nephew Ajit to call Home Minister Patil, who was in the audience. Shortly, the trio left the venue in Sharad Pawar’s car. It was confirmed there by party sources that NCP had decided to replace Pichad with a new face. NCP had earlier informed the CM that it wanted to effect changes after June 5.
NCP president, Uddhav take digs at each other
Over the Shiv Sena’s demand for a world-class theme park at Mahalaxmi Racecourse and its reservations to renewing BMC's lease agreement of with the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC), Pawar chose to respond with sarcasm. He did not utter a word about the NCP’s stance on the issue, but, instead, contented himself by hurling a barb at Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who is currently in the US.
“Thackeray gets new ideas while he is out of the country. This time he might come back with a new idea,” said Pawar. Reacting to this from the US, Uddhav Thackeray said, “But we can never imagine urinating in parched dams and ridiculing people in drought-hit areas,” referring to Deputy CM Ajit Pawar's comments a few months ago.
Thackeray added, "Seeing the gambling at the racecourse, Sharad Pawar hit upon the IPL. We believed he respected Chhatrapati Shivaji's horse, but we are sad to learn that he took more pride in the horses on the racecourse.. After seeing the horse-trading at the racecourse for so many years, now Pawar wants the venue to be kept open for the public. "We never got ideas to construct a Lavassa on farmers' lands."
- Inputs from Agencies