MAHARASHTRA: Power play

Print edition : October 19, 2012

Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar of the NCP announcing his resignation in Mumbai on September 25.-PTI

ON September 25, Ajit Pawar handed in his resignation as Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra following allegations of irregularities in clearing irrigation projects during his tenure as Minister for Water Resources and Finance between 1999 and 2009. Projects were apparently passed without proper clearances from the Governing Council of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation, resulting in a loss of around Rs.20,000 crore. Vijay Pandhare, an Irrigation Department engineer, collected evidence in support of these allegations over a period of time and presented it to the government earlier this year.

Ajits resignation has drawn peoples attention more to its political repercussions than to the scam itself. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the resignation is just a means for Ajit to further his political ambitions of mustering more support within the Nationalist Congress Party and perhaps deposing Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress, a man whom the NCP has frequently taken potshots at.

Although Ajit lacks the political experience and background of many other political leaders, his rise in politics has been meteoric largely because of Sharad Pawar, his uncle and leader of the NCP. However, Sharad Pawar has also drawn his daughter Supriya Sule into politics, making it clear that Ajit is not his sole political heir.

Over the years, Ajit has worked steadily to consolidate his position in the party and has succeeded to a great extent. The most recent proof of this strength was the resignation offer by 19 NCP Ministers who believed Ajit was being framed in the scam. Although the move was squashed by Sharad Pawar, it did showcase Ajits influence over a large section of the party.

Two years ago, when Sharad Pawar backed Chhagan Bhujbal for the post of Deputy Chief Minister, Ajit showed his power by proving he had the support of 60 of the NCPs 62 MLAs. The only two who did not support him were Bhujbal and his son. Pawar was forced to make Ajit the Deputy Chief Minister.

If Ajit quits his Cabinet post, it will mean handing over the finance, planning and power portfolios although his leadership of the NCP in the legislature is not in question.

Lyla Bavadam

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