Mumbai, Jul 5 (PTI) Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar appeared to be ahead in number game with more NCP MLAs supporting him than his uncle and party president Sharad Pawar as the warring factions held their separate meetings on Wednesday to show their strength, escalating the battle between them to control the outfit.
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 Ajit Pawar for joining the Shiv Sena-BJP government as they took jibe at each other over the former’s age and use of his photo.
The Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar camps of the NCP held their meetings in Yashwantrao Chavan Centre in south Mumbai and at Mumbai Educational Trust (rpt Mumbai Educational Trust) in suburban Bandra, respectively.
Surrounded by party workers, including 32 of NCP’s 53 MLAs, Ajit Pawar, who took oath as deputy CM on July 2 along with eight other leaders who also joined the Eknath Shinde government, reminded his 83-year-old uncle that it was time for him to retire from active politics.
“In the BJP, leaders retire at 75, when are you going to stop?” Ajit Pawar said, speaking at the meeting convened by him.
“Everybody has his innings. The most productive years are from 25 to 75 years,” 63-year-old Ajit Pawar said.
When he made the statement, 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.
Ajit Pawar blamed Sharad Pawar 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.
“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,” Ajit Pawar said.
“You are 83, aren’t you going to stop? Give us your blessings and we will pray that you live a long life,” said the deputy CM.
Addressing his faction’s meeting, where around a dozen MLAs were present, the senior 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 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.
On the Ajit Pawar-led faction approaching the Election Commission and staking claim to the party symbol, the former Union agriculture minister assured his supporters he won’t allow anyone to snatch the party symbol.
“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 warned the Ajit Pawar factiony, 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.
“The Akali Dal was with the BJP for many years, but now it is nowhere. Similar situation unfolded in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. In Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar realised it and switched to an alliance with the RJD,” the NCP president said.
Pawar also objected to the Ajit Pawar faction using his photograph on their banners.
“If they have gone there, why are they using my photo? I will not let our symbol and party name fall into their hands,” he said.
Maharashtra minister Bhujbal said they took the decision of joining the Eknath Shinde-BJP government in Maharashtra after “proper consideration”.
Speaking to a news channel, Bhujbal said, “We have taken the decision to join the Maharashtra government after proper consideration. If he (NCP chief Sharad Pawar) has a long career of 57-58 years in politics, I have also spent 56 years in the same field.” “Our decision did not happen like we woke up one morning and joined the government,” he added.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s supporters thronged his residence in south Mumbai ahead of the show of strength meetings convened by him and his nephew Ajit Pawar .
Outside Silver Oak, the senior Pawar’s residence in south Mumbai, a party worker was seen carrying a banner which read: ’83-year-old warrior waging a fight alone’.
Supporters of Ajit Pawar also gathered outside his Devgiri official residence, also in south Mumbai, before he left to attend the meeting at Bandra.
“We are hard core Dada (as Ajit Pawar is called) supporters. We have come all the way from Baramati,” an NCP worker told the media outside Devgiri.