'Wait till Oct 15'

Emerging from a party meeting at Vidhan Bhavan yesterday that saw endorsement for Ajit Pawar’s resignation from the post of deputy chief minister, most NCP legislators looked downcast. The sombre mood in the state NCP was enough indication that the fate of the Congress-led Democratic Front government was still hanging in the balance and that the forecast was grim.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar , Chhagan Bhujbal
Political drama: NCP chief Sharad Pawar has rejected the resignations of other party ministers, who had put in their papers on Tuesday. Pawar was later joined by Chhagan Bhujbal and other senior leaders at YB Chavan auditorium for a meeting regarding the party’s future.

“Wait till October 15,” a senior NCP MLA said soon after the meeting, referring to a likely reshuffle in the Union cabinet on October 14. It was an indication that the Congress, the big brother in the ruling alliance, would now have to go the extra mile to placate its coalition partner after the recent unpleasant happenings.

Ajit Pawar

On his part, Pawar said his decision to resign was taken as he found it suffocating to function in a climate of mistrust and suspicion following the irrigation scam allegations.

Supporters of Ajit Pawar
Several supporters of Ajit Pawar collected outside the Vidhan Bhavan after he put in his papers. Pics/Atul Kamble, Sandeep Mahankal

While accepting Pawar’s decision, the NCP decided to reject the resignations of all other party ministers, who had put in their papers on Tuesday.¬†Addressing his party legislators, NCP chief Sharad Pawar also sent a warning signal to the Congress, saying deliberate attempts to corner the NCP would not be tolerated.

“We will try to clarify things with our alliance partner if there are misunderstandings on certain issues,” he said. “We will also hold talks with the Congress high command if its state leaders deliberately commit any mistakes here. And we will have to do a rethink on continuing the alliance if we find there have been deliberate attempts to corner us.”

These words from the Union Agriculture Minister, who is the uncle of Ajit Pawar, were uttered in response to complaints by NCP legislators about the treatment meted out to them by the Congress.

Before the much-awaited meeting of the NCP, two assignations of top leaders of the party were held, one at Union minister Praful Patel’s residence in Worli and followed by another at the YB Chavan Centre near Mantralaya. The meeting at Patel’s residence began with Sthe two Pawars, and they were shortly joined by Baramati MP Supriya Sule. A fourth meeting, which happened after the Vidhan Bhavan assemblage, saw uncle and nephew closeted till late in the night at the former’s Silver Oaks Estate bungalow in Breach Candy.

The meeting at YB Chavan Centre was attended by a wider range of senior leaders - Praful Patel, state party unit chief Madhukar Pichad, ministers Chhagan Bhujbal and R R Patil, Sule and a few others.

At the meeting with the MLAs, Ajit Pawar said while he was not going to withdraw his resignation, he would honour his uncle’s decision on it as “he is my deity”. He also refuted reports on his differences with CM Prithviraj Chavan and of a discord in the family.

“It was all just going on in the name of breaking news on channels,” he said.

NCP state chief Pichad praised Ajit Pawar, saying people rise above their current stature when they resign at junctures like the present one. “It was my experience also when I resigned in 1993 after over 100 members of the Gowari tribal community died in Nagpur,” he said. “I was nominated the leader of the opposition in 1995 and am now entrusted with the job of state party chief.”

Speaking on the alleged irrigation scam, Ajit Pawar said that while cities like Pune were in need of more water because of a steep rise in population, questions that have been raised over growth in the irrigation sector were meaningless.

Even the elder Pawar came to his nephew’s rescue, saying the figures quoted were not true as funds much lower than mentioned were actually provided for the irrigation projects.

“We need to take into consideration the exact land that came under irrigation, and the water used for non-irrigation purposes such as drinking and industrial use,” he said, adding, “If such figures had been made available immediately, the doubt over the amount spent and the land that has come under irrigation would have been removed.”

He said Ajit Pawar had told him that he wanted to keep himself away from the government till the inquiry into the scam allegations was completed. Dilip Sopal, the leader of the group of 12 independent MLAs who support the government from outside, also submitted a memorandum to Sharad Pawar on behalf of all of them. It sought the rejection of Ajit Pawar’s resignation.

After the meeting, the MLAs were heard saying it would be difficult for the Congress to run the government as the onus to issue a white paper on irrigation was now on CM Chavan. 

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