‘Kitne aadmi hai..?’ No clarity on MLAs hitched to rival NCP factions

The first day of the monsoon session was marked with around two-dozen NCP legislators attending — 10 in the Opposition and 15 on the ruling side. — IANS

Mumbai, July 18 (IANS) For the past two days, there has been a furious head-count of MLAs from the rival factions of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) attending the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly session, which commenced on July 17.

NCP President Sharad Pawar’s group is sitting in the Opposition as before, while the breakaway faction led by Ajit Pawar has joined the ruling Shiv Sena-BJP government and occupies the treasury benches.

A total of 53 MLAs of the NCP were elected in the October 2019 Assembly elections, which threw up a hung House.

The first day of the monsoon session was marked with around two-dozen NCP legislators attending — 10 in the Opposition and 15 on the ruling side.

On the second day, there were around 25 NCP MLAs on the Opposition side, according to a party leader, and some 20 MLAs on the treasury benches.

The Ajit Pawar camp has claimed from the day of the split — June 2 — that it commands the strength of a majority, or around 33 MLAs, leaving the rest with the Sharad Pawar side.

However, as a senior NCP functionary puts it, the figures may not exactly be rosy for the Ajit Pawar side as they may fall short of the two-third mark to skirt the anti-defection provisions, and could risk action, including disqualification.

The Ajit Pawar faction has made two desperate attempts for a patch-up with the Sharad Pawar group in the past two days.

On Sunday and Monday, the splinter NCP leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, working President Praful Patel and state President Sunil Tatkare, called on Sharad Pawar, asking him to consider the ‘unity’ of the party.

Sharad Pawar, on both occasions, received them politely and heard them out patiently, but did not respond to their suggestion — leaving the other side anxious.

On Tuesday, the rival camps were relatively calm as Sharad Pawar was in Bengaluru for the Opposition parties’ conclave, while Ajit Pawar travelled to Delhi along with Patel and Chief Minister Eknath Shinde to attend the NDA meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In the meantime, confusion reigns supreme on the respective strength of the two groups, even as the Ajit Pawar camp is gradually appearing edgy.

Party sources reveal that Sharad Pawar has decided to adopt a tough stance vis-a-vis the rebellion led by his own nephew, and is in no mood to forgive or forget, though the latter’s faction has been regularly invoking Pawar Sr. as their leader and mentor.

Indications of this came last week, when he made his closest confidante Chhagan Bhujbal’s stronghold of Nashik as his first port of call after the party split.

As Sharad Pawar (83) plans to make a state-wide tour in the coming months, many MLAs dread their future prospects after the patriarch’s soft tongue-lashing that can turn the fortunes of many, particularly the less experienced ones.

Seniors admit that the situation is too cloudy on both sides with several legislators still in two minds — at least one MLA switched sides three-four times in as many days, and one MP too — while most are hoping for the political or legal confusion to clear up before taking a call.

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