Adding fuel to rumours about his possible switchover to the BJP, senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar on Friday (April 21) skipped a meeting of the party’s Mumbai unit.
Ajit, however, played down the buzz while speaking to reporters and said he was unable to attend the convention as he had to remain present for some other programmes happening at the same time. He said nothing much should be read into this.
The BJP, on the other hand, commented that said Maha Vikas Aghadi leaders were defaming Pawar and and questioning his credibility.
Also read: ‘We will remain with NCP’, says Ajit Pawar amid rumours of his defection
The daylong meeting in Mumbai was addressed by party chief Sharad Pawar and other senior leaders like Praful Patel, Jitendra Awhad, Supriya Sule, Chhagan Bhujbal and state president Jayant Patil.
Praful Patel said Mumbai and Thane region have 60 Assembly seats and NCP must do well in this belt if it has to emerge as the number one party in the state. In the 2019 state elections, the party had won 54 seats in the 288-member Assembly.
Awhad said the party can do well if civic elections are fought under the leadership of Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray in an alliance.
NCP, Congress and the Shiv Sena under Thackeray were part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government that collapsed last year following a rebellion by Eknath Shinde, who later joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to become the chief minister.
Jayant Patil said the NCP has fought elections in Mumbai in alliance with the Congress with mixed results, and added that efforts have to be renewed to strengthen cadres at the grassroots and connect with people on issues of housing and basic amenities.
In Pune, Ajit told reporters that one has to choose between two events happening at the same time. “There is no need to speculate,” he said.
Intense speculation is going on in Maharashtra’s political circles about Ajit’s growing proximity with the ruling BJP.
NCP gives clarification
Earlier, the NCP had clarified that Ajit’s inability to attend the meeting shouldn’t be construed as his intention to quit the party.
Talking about his absence at the meeting, NCP spokesman Clyde Crasto said the party’s Mumbai event was planned a month ago.
Also read: Will quit Maha govt if Ajit Pawar joins BJP with NCP faction: Shiv Sena (Shinde)
“Ajitdada is continuously busy and he has accepted invitations to several programmes in Pune. He expressed his inability to attend (the NCP meet). All leaders have their schedule to follow. Just because they are unable to attend one function, it does not mean they are planning to quit. He was present along with (Sharad) Pawar saheb for an iftar party earlier this week in Mumbai,” Crasto said.
Rumours about Ajit’s next political move started swirling last week when he suddenly cancelled his scheduled meetings and also made comments which were seen as being soft on the BJP and Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s camp.
The Shinde-led Shiv Sena has said that it won’t be a part of the government in Maharashtra if Ajit joins the BJP with a group of NCP leaders.
Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut added to the speculation when he wrote in his weekly column in party mouthpiece Saamana last Sunday that Sharad Pawar recently told Thackeray that there is a lot of pressure on some individuals to break ranks.
“Families are being targeted but even if individuals take a different stand, NCP as a party will never go with the BJP,” he wrote referring to the senior Pawar.
Ajit has clarified that he will remain with the NCP.
Pawar on Tuesday also dismissed the speculation about his nephew’s next political move. He asked the media not to stretch the issue and that Ajit was busy with party work.
MVA leaders defaming Ajit Pawar: BJP
State BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule on Friday said MVA leaders were defaming Ajit Pawar and questioning his credibility.
“They are posing questions on the credibility of Pawar. From the early morning swearing in (when Pawar broke ranks and allied with Devendra Fadnavis in 2019) till now, question marks are being raised on his life, stand and work,” Bawankule told reporters, adding he had not met Ajit in the last three months.
Also read: Maharashtra: Ajit Pawar mocks publicity around CM Shinde’s Ayodhya visit
Bawankule also junked media reports that 13 NCP MLAs are in touch with the BJP.
On November 23, 2019, Fadnavis and Ajit were sworn in as chief minister and deputy chief minister, respectively, but the government fell without proving its majority on November 28.
(With inputs from agencies)