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MLAs pull Ajit, Pawar camp pushes

Sept. 26: Differences appeared to emerge today in the NCP on Ajit Pawar’s resignation, with the central leadership willing to accept it but the MLAs demanding that he stay on while leaving the decision to Sharad Pawar.

A total of 61 MLAs, six MLCs and nine Independents who attended an NCP legislature party meeting passed a unanimous resolution strongly demanding that Ajit take back his resignation as Maharashtra deputy chief minister.

NCP vice-president Praful Patel had said in New Delhi that Ajit’s resignation would be accepted. Patel had also indicated in the morning that the legislature party meeting scheduled at 2pm would be cancelled following the death of senior party leader and former Maharashtra Assembly Speaker Babasaheb Kupekar.

But the MLAs went ahead with the meeting, staging a show of strength at Vidhan Bhavan. The legislators, including the Independents, expressed solidarity with Ajit and conveyed their sentiments to state party president Madhukar Pichad.

Pichad said: “I will convey the sentiments of the party representatives to Pawar when he arrives in Mumbai on Friday. The party has authorised Pawar to take the final decision.”

Pawar, who is also Ajit’s uncle, was at a conference in Calcutta today. He reaffirmed support to ally Congress in the state and at the Centre. “As far as the NCP is concerned, we will continue to support the Congress in Delhi and in Maharashtra. We don’t want to destabilise a government. We want stability and a result-oriented government,” the Union agriculture minister said.

The NCP suspects the coalition leader is targeting Ajit in an alleged corruption scandal.

Pawar brushed off suggestions that the resignation was a ploy to create pressure on the Congress. “There’s no question of using pressure tactics. There may have been certain differences in the state. But that doesn’t mean we were trying to exert pressure,” he said.

Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, an MP, and Patel also tried to put a lid on speculation that Ajit’s resignation was in protest against moves to install Sule in his place.

Patel, who cancelled his visit to Mumbai, said the party had decided that the deputy chief minister’s position would remain vacant till Ajit’s name in the irrigation scam is cleared. “Till he gets a clean chit, no one will be appointed as deputy CM. When his name is cleared, we will reappoint him to the post. He is and will remain the state legislature party leader,” the Union minister told reporters.

He also denied reports of a rift between Pawar and Ajit. “He (Ajit) had spoken twice to Pawarsaheb, and only after his consent did he tender his resignation,” Patel said.

Sule said in Nashik: “The people of Baramati have elected me to represent them in Delhi, and I am doing that.”

Her cousin’s resignation was dictated by his “inner voice” following allegations maligning his image, she said.

While Ajit attended the legislature party meeting, he did not speak to the media.

Yesterday, after Patel had said there was no need for any other NCP ministers or MLAs to resign following Ajit’s unexpected resignation, all 20 NCP ministers handed in their papers to Pichad.

Ajit’s supporters today burnt effigies of chief minister Prithviraj Chavan in some parts of the state, while the Satara Zilla Parishad passed a resolution demanding that Chavan should also step down. Chavan’s hometown Karad is located in Satara district.

The Congress ruled out a change of guard. Party spokesperson Rashid Alvi said “there is no question of leadership change”. The state Congress has called a meeting of party legislators tomorrow where the MLAs are likely to express solidarity with Chavan.

Senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad sought to allay suggestions of a rift with the NCP, saying “Sharad Pawar is the UPA’s biggest “supporter” and insisting Ajit had “not resigned because of differences with the state or the central Congress but because there are some allegations”.