Stressing that his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) faction had not allied with the ruling BJP and the Shiv Sena coalition led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde for “selfish reasons”, Deputy Chief Minister and rebel NCP leader Ajit Pawar on Sunday reiterated that almost every legislator within the undivided NCP had wanted to join the BJP-Shinde government soon after the collapse of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) last year.
Mr. Pawar’s NCP faction staged a massive show of strength in the ‘sugar belt’ district of Kolhapur on Sunday evening, where Mr. Pawar addressed a public rally in which he criticised his uncle Sharad Pawar for not allying with the BJP-Shinde government sooner.
Without taking his uncle’s name, Mr. Pawar said: “Soon after Uddhav Thackeray’s government had fallen [June 2022], all NCP MLAs, barring one or two legislators, had submitted a letter to our party leader [Sharad Pawar] expressing their wish to join the ‘Mahayuti’ [Shinde-BJP] government.”
In a thinly veiled jibe at his uncle, he said: “Those who are trying to defame us should note that if what I have claimed [about the letter] is false, then I will retire from politics. But if true, then those who are telling lies ought to retire. Are they willing to do so?”
Stating that playing negative politics and indulging in mere sloganeering was not his style, Mr. Pawar said he had aligned with the ruling government solely to ensure that development works could be carried out swiftly.
Earlier, his followers staged a road show in Pune to welcome Mr. Pawar’s move to join the ruling government. As his convoy moved into Satara district, Mr. Pawar paid his respects at Pritisangam in Karad taluk — the resting place of his uncle Mr. Sharad Pawar’s political guru and former Chief Minister Y.B. Chavan.
Incidentally, Mr. Sharad Pawar had staged a show of strength at the very place a day after his nephew’s rebellion on July 2.
Given that Kolhapur had been rattled by communal disturbances in June, Mr. Pawar assured people that if anyone tried to disturb the city’s social equilibrium, then they would be taken to task by his NCP faction.
“My NCP faction will work according to the progressive ideals of reformers Shahu Maharaj, Jyotirao Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar by staying in this government. We will not tolerate communal disturbances,” he said, further promising that his NCP faction colleagues would strive for justice for the marginalised classes as well.
Praising the leadership of Mr. Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, Mr. Pawar said their decisions had directly benefited farmers in Maharashtra.
“If decisions are being taken to benefit farmers, what is the harm in joining the BJP at the State and Centre? Look at the income tax relief accorded to sugar cooperatives and the increased fair and remunerative price for farmers. Do our detractors have an answer to all this?” Mr. Pawar asked.
Even as his nephew staged a show of strength in Kolhapur, Mr. Sharad Pawar held a meeting of his loyalists in Mumbai in which he targeted Mr. Modi and the BJP, while assuring his cadre that the defection of the NCP rebels had presented an opportunity to rebuild the party from scratch.
“The PM attacked the NCP at a meeting in Bhopal, calling it the most corrupt party. He cited scams to the tune of thousands of crores in the irrigation and cooperative bank sectors. And then, within some days, those NCP leaders whom the PM may have been hinting at with his examples, align with the BJP,” said Pawar senior.
Assuring his cadre not to worry about the ongoing tussle in the Election Commission over the NCP party name and symbol, Mr. Sharad Pawar said he had fought six elections under six different symbols in his long career and had won each time.
“I have fought six elections under six different symbols and yet the people elected me. I want to assure you that symbol and name is not important. We have been given a chance to begin anew, set up the party from scratch and [offer] encouragement to fresh faces. People do not like the BJP’s splitting of other parties,” he said.