Amid speculation of him allying with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena dispensation, senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar on April 16 firmly refuted suggestions of him having met BJP top gun and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Mumbai during the latter’s ongoing visit to the city.
Mr. Shah arrived in Mumbai on April 15 evening. He attended the Maharashtra Bhushan awards the next day. His visit assumes significance ahead of the crucial Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections this year and the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in 2024.
“Where did I meet him and where? This speculation [of me having met Mr. Shah] is utterly baseless. I urge the media and others not to mislead people by spreading such news,” said Mr. Pawar, speaking in Nagpur ahead of the Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi’s (MVA) rally.
He further clarified that Mr. Shah, after landing in Mumbai had gone to meet Vinod Tawde owing to the demise of the latter’s mother and then had gone to the Sahyadri State Guest House.
“With all the media channels moving behind Mr. Shah, how is it that I could have met him? These things are never hidden. It is the media who enjoys making such wild speculations about me,” quipped the NCP leader.
Mr. Pawar, who startled Maharashtra with his early morning swearing-in as Deputy Chief Minister alongside the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis as Chief Minister in 2019, has proved a source of anxiety for his allies in the MVA - the Congress and the Sena (UBT) – as to his next political move.
A series of remarks made by Shinde camp Ministers hinting that Mr. Pawar could well come over to their side has only added fuel to the fire.
Taking pot shots at the Shinde camp MLAs, Mr. Pawar wryly remarked: “I do not understand this sudden showering of affection on me. First, it was Uday Samant, then Dada Bhuse and now Gulabrao Patil, I have no way of knowing why are they making such statements.”
Earlier this week, Industries Minister Uday Samant had lavished praise on Mr. Pawar in Ratnagiri, while Mr. Bhuse had claimed that the NCP leader “was restless” and that “anything could happen” on the political scene.
Likewise, Water supply and Sanitation minister Gulabrao Patil, commenting on Mr. Pawar, cryptically remarked that “an auspicious hour is needed for any marriage and that hour was soon approaching.”
With the Supreme Court’s decision on the disqualification petition of the 16 ‘rebel’ MLAs of the Shinde camp, the buzz around Mr. Ajit Pawar has intensified with speculation rampant that Mr. Pawar, along with a section of NCP MLAs would move over to support the BJP in the event that the Shinde camp legislators were disqualified.
Responding to questions about speculation of fresh political equations in Maharashtra, Mr. Pawar said that “everyone, from political pundits to the media” liked to make such guesses.
Mr. Pawar, however, said that even if 16 of the Shinde camp MLAs were disqualified, the BJP-Shinde government would still remain stable with the support of the Independents. “It is pointless painting pictures of changed political equations before the apex court has given any verdict,” said Mr. Pawar.