Political crisis in Maharashtra – Ajit Pawar resigns, but gives hard blows to his uncle

A typical phrase defining the current situation would be, ‘young lion trying to kick the old lion out’. This seems to be what finally happened in the NCP, and the turmoil it caused in the politics of Maharashtra. For the Congress, the NCP is a good ally. As long as you do not get in the way of their portfolios and money-making, the NCP really does not object to most items. Sharad Pawar is fine as long as you don’t target him; there was a case a couple of years back where the Congress tried to target him as the main person who would reply to problems about food inflation, but he refused to take that responsibility and pushed the entire decision making process onto the cabinet. However, earlier this year, things started getting more critical for the NCP after the Congress in Maharashtra got the green light from Sonia Gandhi to not hesitate from targeting the NCP. Promptly, the Chief Minister, Prithviraj Chauhan started making more critical remarks on the NCP ministers, and then moved further into territory dangerous for the NCP by probing into funding for irrigation (and Ajit Pawar was the irrigation minister for most of the time). Even a direct protest from Sharad Pawar was turned aside by using the RTI as a fig-leaf for the continuous release of information.

Even when the last protest from Sharad Pawar was quietened, it was mostly turned into collaboration issues with allies at the national level, and hence the need for a coordination committee. The Congress accepted this, they are pretty comfortable with as many committees as you would like. However, in a shock for Ajit Pawar, his uncle did not make a push for pulling in the tactics of the Chief Minister, and this gave Chauhan further impetus to step up the attacks on Ajit Pawar, including the need for a white paper on money spent for irrigation vs. returns (and the media had covered many of these irrigation projects and found all sorts of issues in them).
For Ajit Pawar, it was the increasing push by the Chief Minister along with more signs that Sharad Pawar was looking to make his daughter his heir rather than Ajit Pawar, something that would have been very surprising for him. And hence this stroke. By pleading that he stepped down for staying out of power during the inquiry, and telling the party cadre that he had made a sacrifice, Ajit Pawar consolidated his position. The biggest demonstration of power that Ajit Pawar showed was to get all the ministers from the NCP to send in their resignations even when Sharad Pawar denied that these ministers had resigned. For good measure, outside legislators who were backing the Government also threatened to withdrew their support if Ajit Pawar was not taken back.
In the end, Ajit had to go. His position will get more untenable if the white paper reveals more problems and also because it became a prestige issue for his uncle. At the same time, by ensuring that his portfolios go to his chosen people and with no replacement deputy chief minister, Ajit has put himself in the same level as Sharad Pawar even though both he and his uncle deny it. The end solution was a compromise within the NCP, but you would expect that even though Sharad Pawar will try and reverse the losses he has made in this recent turmoil, Ajit will try to move more and more support his side.

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