NEWS ANALYSIS Conscious of political compulsions, NCP chief decides not to rock the boat; all eyes on White Paper on irrigation sector

At the end of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) meeting, while party president Sharad Pawar briefed the media in the foyer of Vidhan Bhavan, his nephew tried to make a quiet exit in a brown Range Rover, swiftly pursued by TV crews. And that’s how three days after deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar quit from his post, matters ended on Friday with his resignation being accepted. That does not, however, mean that the issues raised by his resignation have been resolved, though Mr. Sharad Pawar had claimed the matter is now closed.

The party was at pains to show that there is no rift in the family and Mr. Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule attended a closed-door meeting where Mr. Pawar, Mr. Ajit Pawar and Union Minister Praful Patel were present. Then Ms. Sule and Mr. Ajit Pawar drove up in the same car to the Y.B. Chavan auditorium where a meeting with party Ministers and senior leaders was held.

At the press briefing, Mr. Pawar too said with a tinge of sarcasm the media could be disappointed as there was no split in the clan.

The focus now seems to be on clearing Mr. Ajit Pawar’s name in the alleged irrigation scam and telling people that money has been spent in creating assets without which the State would not have grown. Undoubtedly, the government has spent money but prima facie all of it has not been spent where it should have, as a writ petition in the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court, apart from Chief Engineer Vijay Pandhre’s letters, has indicated. The NCP, in retaliation, has launched a campaign against Mr. Pandhre, saying he is mentally unsound.

Mr. Ajit Pawar’s problems of working with a Chief Minister with his propensity for taking time to clear files or making quick decisions is well-known and now he is free of that unhappy relationship. But what he might not escape his being under the scanner for the “misdemeanours” in the Irrigation Ministry, which he headed in the previous Cabinet.

At the meeting with legislators, Mr. Pawar glossed over some of the accusations, saying that this was the first time that a Minister who took quick decisions was being targeted. Among the points raised in the writ petition with the Nagpur Bench is that 30 projects were granted hurried approvals in just four days — August 14, 2009 (11 projects); June 24, 2009 (10 projects); July 7, 2009 (5 projects), and August 18, 2009 (4 projects).

The White Paper cannot be a whitewash of the irrigation sector and there is enough reason to believe that things are far from hunky-dory there. The White Paper should function like an audit of the department instead of having the sole aim of clearing Mr. Ajit Pawar’s name, as is being suggested by the NCP. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan agreed to come out with the White Paper after many irregularities were pointed out to him.

The fact that the Congress and the NCP are not exactly the best of friends has been amply clear and there are frequent noises about both going it alone in the next polls. However, it is a Catch-22 situation where they cannot do without each other for now if they want to rule.

The elder and more seasoned Pawar is conscious of these political compulsions and since the NCP is also a constituent of the United Progressive Alliance, he has taken care not to rock the boat. His nephew is intolerant of coalition compulsions and his petulance too could have contributed to his sudden exit.

Mr. Ajit Pawar plans to travel around the State and the NCP is expected to speak to people to clear the air on the irrigation issue. Though legislators had given a written demand to the party president demanding that Mr. Ajit Pawar withdraw his resignation, the Pawar senior noted that his nephew wished not to return to his position until he was exonerated. In a sense, the resignation works for the NCP as well. While not much can be expected of the White Paper, it may be difficult for Mr. Ajit Pawar to escape the allegations raised in the Jan Manch petition and probe demand, if the High Court decides there is enough evidence to order one.

In politics, though, nothing is permanent, as the senior Pawar indicated to some of the disappointed legislators. Just as Home Minister R.R. Patil resigned in the wake of 26/11, and came back to head the Ministry, Mr. Ajit Pawar too could be back once his name is cleared. What are coalitions for?