Mumbai: Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar on Wednesday said he aspired to become the CM of the state and also took a jibe at his 83-year-old uncle asking when will the Maratha strongman retire from active politics, as he appeared to be ahead in the numbers game for control of the NCP after its vertical split.
The Election Commission was informed through an affidavit that Ajit Pawar was elected NCP chief through a resolution dated June 30, 2023 signed by an "overwhelming majority" of members of the party, both from the legislative and organisational wing.
A statement issued on Wednesday on behalf of the Ajit Pawar-led faction also said that Praful Patel, who has deserted Sharad Pawar, continues to be the NCP working president.
The NCP has also decided to appoint Ajit Pawar as the leader of its Legislative Party in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and this decision was also ratified by the resolution passed by an overwhelming majority of NCP MLAs, the statement said.
The factional fight of the NCP also reached the doorstep of the EC with the group led by Ajit Pawar filing over 40 affidavits of MLAs and MPs in his support. The Sharad Pawar camp has filed a caveat with the poll authority urging it to hear them first before passing any directive in connection with the factional fight, EC sources said in Delhi.
Pawar camp meetings
As the warring Pawar camps held separate meetings in Mumbai in a show of strength, the remarks by 63-year-old Ajit Pawar, who has never hidden his chief ministerial ambitions, is certain to unsettle Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, whose Sena-BJP coalition government completed one year last week. Senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis, a former chief minister, is also a deputy chief minister.
"I was sworn in deputy CM five times. It is a record but the vehicle stops there, doesn't proceed further. I feel from the bottom of my heart that I should become pramukh (cm) of the state. I have some things which I want to implement and for that becoming pramukh (CM) is essential," Pawar told a meeting convened by him at Mumbai Educational Trust (rpt Mumbai Educational Trust) in suburban Bandra.
As many as 32 of the 53 Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLAs attended the meeting called by the Ajit Pawar group, while 18 MLAs were present at the conclave addressed by the NCP chief, sources in both factions said.
Addressing separate meetings, their first after the July 2 split in the 24-year-old party, Sharad Pawar criticised his nephew for joining the Shiv Sena-BJP government as they took jibes at each other over the octogenarian politician's age and use of his photo.
Surrounded by NCP workers, including 32 of the party's 53 MLAs, Ajit Pawar, who took oath as deputy CM on July 2 along with eight other party leaders who also joined the government, suggested that his uncle should give way for the younger generation.
You are 83, aren't you going to stop?. Everybody has his innings. The most productive years are from 25 to 75 years. Give us your blessings and we will pray that you live a long life," Ajit Pawar said.
For us, Saheb (Sharad Pawar) is a deity and we have deep respect for him. IAS officers retire at 60. Even in politics, BJP leaders retire at 75. You can see the example of L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi."
When he made the statement, the newly-inducted cabinet minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who is 75 years old and a key member of the Ajit Pawar camp, was present on the stage.
Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, a Lok Sabha MP, hit back at her rebel cousin Ajit Pawar, saying she would not tolerate a single word spoken against her father.
One can criticise me or any other person, but I will not tolerate that against my father....he is more than a father for the party workers, she said.
We as daughters are far better than the sons who ask their father to sit at home."
In his speech, Ajit Pawar blamed his uncle for the NCP losing out on the chance to have its own chief minister in Maharashtra in 2004. We had more MLAs than the Congress in 2004, but our senior leader allowed the Congress to bag the CM's post, he said.
Sharad Pawar slams nephew
Addressing his faction's meeting at Yashwantrao Chavan Centre where around a dozen MLAs were present, Sharad Pawar criticised his nephew for going with the BJP for power, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling the NCP a "corrupt" party.
The veteran politician, who has battled many crisis in the six decades of his political career, objected to his big photo adorning the stage at the meeting convened by the Ajit Pawar group, said those using his image are aware that they have nothing else to show.
“If they have gone there, why are they using my photo? I will not let our symbol and party name fall into their hands.Just a few days ago, they (Ajit Pawar) derided Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, saying they haven't seen such a CM in all these years, but today they have joined him,” Sharad Pawar said.
Recalling his connect with the masses when he set up the NCP in 1999 after quitting the Congress, the senior Pawar said, Today we may not be in power, but we are in people's hearts.
The NCP chief also warned the Ajit Pawar faction, saying every single ally of the BJP has eventually faced "political destruction" and they will meet the same fate.
Those who join hands with the BJP and share power get politically destroyed eventually. To steadily weaken its political allies is the BJP's policy. There are enough examples of this in other states," the Rajya Sabha MP said.
(With PTI inputs.)