Springing a surprise, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar on Tuesday said he is stepping down as chief of the NCP, the political outfit he founded and has helmed since 1999.
A meeting of a committee of party leaders -- which Pawar said should decide on the election for his successor -- was underway at his residence here. Pawar made the announcement at the launch of a revised version of his Marathi autobiography 'Lok Majhe Sangati' (People Accompany Me), prompting protests by party workers and appeals by NCP leaders to revoke the decision.
While Maharashtra NCP president Jayant Patil and party leader Jitendra Awhad broke down after Pawar's announcement, party MP Praful Patel requested him to withdraw his decision.
Pawar did not take anyone into confidence before announcing his resignation, Praful Patel said.
Speaking at the book launch, Pawar said his political journey began on May 1, 1960, and has continued without a break for the past 63 years with him serving Maharashtra and India in various capacities.
“I have three years of Rajya Sabha membership left, during which I will focus on the issues related to Maharashtra and India, with a caveat of not accepting any responsibility (of party post). After a long period of public life from May 1, 1960, to May 1, 2023, it is necessary to take a step back. Hence, I have decided to step down as president of the Nationalist Congress Party,” he said.
He recommended that a committee of NCP leaders be formed to decide on the election of the party president.
The committee should have Praful Patel, Sunil Tatkare, K K Sharma, P C Chacko, Ajit Pawar, Jayant Patil, Supriya Sule, Chhagan Bhujbal, Dilip Walse Patil, Anil Deshmukh, Rajesh Tope, Jitendra Awhad, Hasan Mushrif, Dhananjay Munde and Jaydev Gaikwad, Pawar said.
It should also have, as ex-officio members, Fauzia Khan, president of the Nationalist Mahila Congress; Dheeraj Sharma, president, Nationalist Youth Congress; and Sonia Duhan, president, Nationalist Students' Congress, he added.
"I am with you, but not as NCP chief," he told the emotional party workers.
After announcing his decision, Pawar barely spoke in the two hours he was at the venue. He sat quietly, next to his wife Pratibha, surrounded by NCP leaders and workers.
Senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar said his uncle will abide by the decision of the party's committee. The committee will talk to Pawar while taking into consideration the workers' sentiments, Ajit added.
He also said that Sharad Pawar had taken the decision to step down on May 1 which is the foundation day of Maharashtra, but deferred it as a rally of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance of the NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena was scheduled on Monday.
Many party workers said they would not leave the venue till Pawar did not revoke his decision to resign. Finally, Pawar left for his residence `Silver Oak' around 2.30 pm.
His decision came at a time when Pawar is seen as one of the leaders who could bring opposition parties together against the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year.
While announcing his decision to quit as party chief, Pawar said he intended to do more in the fields of education, agriculture, cooperation and sports and culture among others and also pay attention to issues related to the youth, students, workers, Dalits, tribals and other weaker sections of society.
A four-time Maharashtra chief minister who also served as Union Defence and Agriculture minister, Pawar was instrumental in stitching together an unlikely coalition of the NCP, Congress and their ideological foe Shiv Sena to form the MVA government after the 2019 Maharashtra Assembly elections.
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