Video Editor: Karuna Mishra
"Who is the big face of the Nationalist Congress Party?" asked a reporter, to which the party supremo confidently replied, "Sharad Pawar," leading to a roar of laughter in the press conference he was addressing on Sunday, 2 July.
The founder of the NCP, who recently celebrated 25 years of the party, has found himself facing the biggest rebellion and coup he has ever witnessed, engineered by his nephew and now Maharashtra deputy CM Ajit Pawar.
In a fresh political earthquake in Maharashtra Ajit Pawar split the NCP to join hands with the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government, took oath as the deputy chief minister of the state along with eight other leaders as ministers, and staked claim to the party.
In a long-anticipated move, Ajit Pawar not only joined what's now being called as the 'triple engine government,' but also significantly weakened the NCP and the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance.
What next for Eknath Shinde? Will the MVA survive? Can Sharad Pawar save the NCP from going the Shiv Sena way?
Here are the six key takeaways from the fresh political turmoil in the state:
1. Ajit Pawar's Claim to the NCP
Ajit Pawar staking claim to the NCP was the biggest takeaway from his statements. Addressing the media after the oath-taking ceremony at Mumbai's Raj Bhavan, Ajit Pawar did not give a specific figure of the number of MLAs supporting him but claimed the support of all 54 MLAs of the party. However, sources have so far put this figure between 30-35.
Ajit Pawar indicated that "majority" matters in a democracy and stated that he will contest Lok Sabha and Assembly elections with the name and symbol of the NCP in alliance with Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena and the BJP. He praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said that he is "taking the country forward on the path of development."
"The decision we took 3.5 years ago was also strategic. If we can join hands with the Shiv Sena, we can join hands with the BJP. We joined hands with the BJP in Nagaland too," Ajit Pawar said.
2. Sharad Pawar's Loyalists Switched Sides
This coup is different than what Ajit Pawar attempted in 2019 when he become the deputy CM for less than 48 hours following the infamous early morning oath-taking ceremony in Mumbai.
Among the key leaders who switched sides include Sharad Pawar's loyalists Chhagan Bhujbal, Dilip Walse Patil, Hassan Mushrif, and Aditi Tatkare, along with other key leaders like recently appointed NCP working president and MP Praful Patel, former deputy speaker Narhari Zirwal, and Parli MP Dhananjay Munde.
Nine such staunch NCP leaders were inducted as ministers in the cabinet.
3. What Sharad Pawar Knew or Didn't
The NCP has clearly split. Addressing the media, Sharad Pawar said that he had no clue of something like this being planned until Sunday. He blamed Modi for threatening the party with cases by central agencies and said that many of those who have switched sides were indeed facing such threats.
One of the biggest takeaways from his address was the fact that he repeatedly claimed to have been receiving calls from many rebel MLAs who are telling him that they were 'misled' into supporting the government. He downplayed Ajit Pawar's claim tot he party and the symbol and clarified that he won't go to the court to fight for it but will take the fight to the people instead.
4. Survival Gets Tougher for MVA
Sharad Pawar clarified that the Maha Vikas Aghadi stands as it is, and will fight elections together, and that he has conveyed the same to Uddhav Thackeray too.
But note that if Ajit Pawar indeed has the support of as many MLAs and MPs as he claims, the MVA is now at its weakest, with Congress emerging as the strongest of the three allies. Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole said that they will 'wait and watch' as developments unfold within the NCP.
Uddhav's Shiv Sena enjoys support on ground but is still organisationally weak. With a clear fresh attack on the NCP's organisational strength across the state, will the MVA be able to pull off everything that needs for survival just six months ahead of 2024?
5. Increased Vulnerability of Eknath Shinde's Sena
The whole premise of Eknath Shinde splitting the Shiv Sena last year was alleged bullying by the NCP, specifically by Ajit Pawar. His faction held him directly responsible for weakening the Sena and misleading Uddhav Thackeray.
Shinde on Sunday welcomed and congratulated Ajit Pawar as his deputy. But things weren't smooth for him with the BJP before Ajit Pawar's move either. The cabinet expansion was already delayed with many of Shinde's party hoping to get berths. His party was steadfast on wanting to contest 22 out of the 48 Lok Sabha seats. With the entry of several tall leaders of the NCP into the ruling alliance, all that now changes and Shinde will be expected to settle for less.
With unfulfilled promises of cabinet berths and having to take and share lesser seats with Ajit's entry, will Shinde be staring at more unrest within his own party?
6. Reestablishment of Devendra Fadnavis' Clear Supremacy
The former CM and now a reluctant deputy CM to Shinde, Fadnavis has once again proved that he is the undisputed choice to lead the state for the BJP despite several reported differences with the party central leadership.
He has not only emerged as an unopposed leader in the state BJP for a while, but has now also proved proved his political supremacy by breaking both the Shiv Sena and the NCP within a year. However, satisfying two strong allies and engineering the seat-sharing formula for both Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections in Maharashtra next year is the next big task.