The 20-minute call that led to deputy CM's resignation

Sep 26, 2012, 06:29 IST | Ravikiran Deshmukh

Mired in irrigation scandal, Ajit Pawar begins day as usual, gets phone call in midst of meeting, steps out to talk for 20 min, returns downcast and begins dictating letter of resignation. Was uncle on the other end?

About 1.30 pm yesterday, when Ajit Pawar was still deputy chief minister and holding a meeting in his Mantralaya chamber, there came a call for the NCP strongman. Pawar stepped out for about 20 minutes to talk on the phone, and when he returned it was with a grim face.

Ajit Pawar
Pawar play: Sources said the mystery caller was none other than his uncle, NCP chief Sharad Pawar. File pic/Bipin Kokate

Pawar, who is caught in a controversy over the multi-crore scam in the state irrigation department, had gone about his affairs as usual since morning, but soon after the phone conversation he was dictating his letter of resignation.

Calling it a day: Ajit Pawar, who is caught in a controversy over the multi-crore scam in the state irrigation department, announced his decision to quit the government soon after the phone conversation

By evening, he had announced his decision to quit the government.

The call had apparently been from his uncle, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar.

After Ajit Pawar had announced his resignation from the post of deputy chief minister in the evening, Sharad Pawar termed it the right decision.

Party MP Supriya Sule, who is Sharad Pawar’s daughter, said it was an “emotional moment” and her cousin had made the decision after listening to his inner voice.

Support for Dada
Soon after his decision, Ajit Pawar’s party colleagues in the government also decided to resign en masse as a show of support for him, but they put in their papers with state NCP unit chief Madhukar Pichad instead of the Chief Minister in deference to Sharad Pawar’s statement that nobody else from the party need quit the government.

After resigning, Ajit Pawar demanded a white paper on the irrigation projects and an investigation into all the allegations.

His decision to quit left the NCP shell-shocked as nobody had expected the move.

When he left his chamber around 1.30 pm upon receiving a message from his personal assistant, Ajit Pawar was chairing a meeting in his office along with cabinet colleagues Sanjay Deotale, Gulabrao Deokar and Fauzia Khan and a few government officials. Just a few minutes before stepping out to take the call, Pawar had even instructed Cultural Affairs Minister Sanjay Deotale to schedule a meeting on his department soon after the weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

A senior Democratic Front functionary said whatever conversation happened on the phone had played a crucial role in Pawar’s decision.
“With this it becomes clear that Ajit Pawar resigned after his phone conversation, which was most probably with his uncle, NCP boss Sharad Pawar,” he said. “It is highly unlike Ajit Pawar to leave a meeting to receive a call from any person other than his uncle.”

After returning to his office, Pawar wound up the meeting in five minutes, only to remain closeted with his trusted staffers for some time. Around 3 pm, he sat down with his long-time personal secretary and a computer operator to dictate his letter of resignation along with a request to allocate the departments held by him to his NCP colleagues.

Later he dictated a press release to be issued during his media briefing at 5 pm.

As Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was already on his way to Pune, Pawar dispatched the resignation letter with his staffer for delivery to Ajitkumar Jain, principal secretary to the CM.

As soon as some of Pawar’s party colleagues learnt of the development on news channels, they rushed to the Mantralaya mini-theatre, where Pawar was addressing the media. First to arrive was Labour Minister Hassan Mushrif, followed by MoS for School Education and Cultural Affairs Fauzia Khan.

Pawar was flanked by NCP MLCs Satish Chavan, Kiran Pawaskar, Vinayak Mete and Hemant Takle and MLA Jitendra Avhad.

Later Sharad Pawar told the media that while his nephew had sought his permission to resign, the developments leading to the resignation happened during the afternoon meeting.

Party sources said Sharad Pawar’s words were a clear indication of his having a hand in the development.

A staunch supporter of Ajit Pawar said many of them were going to request the party to offer only outside support to the government.

A meeting of MLAs who support Ajit Pawar discussed the issue at Deogiri, the official residence of the outgoing deputy chief minister at Malabar Hill.

Soon after Pawar had addressed the media and reached his bungalow, party ministers also started arriving there and all of them began deliberating on the next move they should make.

Then, suddenly, the NCP central unit decided to intervene, and Union minister Praful Patel, known as the most trusted aide of Sharad Pawar, said that no other party minister would resign and that there was no attempt to destabilise the government headed by Chavan.

According to NCP insiders, Ajit Pawar’s resignation was a calculated risk taken by the party leadership. They said Pawar’s claim for the post of deputy chief minister was made when Prithviraj Chavan took over as the CM in November 2010. At the time, Ajit Pawar had forced the party leadership to accept him as the party leader in the state in place of Chhagan Bhujbal.

Since then a sort of cold war had been on between uncle Sharad and nephew Ajit.

“It was noticeable that ever since Ajit Pawar assumed charge as deputy chief minister, the senior Pawar kept in constant touch with the CM over a number of issues concerning the state,” a senior party leader said. “He could have asked Ajit Pawar to do the interacting with the CM at times, but this did not happen.”

A recent example of this was seen when the providing of financial assistance to six district co-operative banks in the state was discussed. Even though the meeting was scheduled with an agenda note that said Rs 510 crore be provided to let the banks come out of the red, Ajit Pawar, though he was in charge of the state finance department, was unaware of it.

Though Ajit Pawar was facing a rough time the past few months, the party failed to take a tough stand and did not impress upon the CM to let the irrigation department issue the white paper despite the fact that it was ready to do so.

The CM was alleged to have enjoyed the situation where a spate of allegations were being made against NCP ministers while the NCP leadership stood by and delayed taking a firm stand against the goings-on.

Cong caught off guard
The Congress, the big brother in the coalition government in the state, was taken off guard by yesterday’s sudden developments, which look like an NCP attempt to clear its position and turn the tables on CM Chavan.

The move by some in the NCP to seek the resignations of its ministers is an attempt to give the party a much-needed facelift, and it also has the advantage of putting the onus on the Congress to now remove its tainted members from the government.

Ajit Pawar, with a strong contingent of his supporters, is likely to go on a statewide tour to strengthen his position among party workers.

1:20 pm: Ajit Pawar is chairing a meeting at his Mantralaya chamber along with his cabinet colleagues
1:30 pm: Pawar leaves the meeting to attend a call that lasts for 15-20 minutes
1:50 pm: He returns to the cabin and winds up the meeting in 5 minutes
3:00 pm: Pawar sits down with his personal secretary and dictates his resignation letter
5:00 pm: Pawar addresses the media at Mantralaya
7:00 pm: NCP spokesman Nawab Malik announces that all the party ministers have submitted their resignations to state party unit chief Madhukar Pichad 

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