In a dramatic finale to political intrigues that had gone on for months, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar has splintered away from his uncle and NCP patriarch, Sharad Pawar, to finally join hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra. Junior Pawar was sworn in as the second Deputy Chief Minister in the Council of Ministers led by Eknath Shinde, but it is hardly the final act in the ongoing drama in the State’s politics. Mr. Shinde had enacted a similar script to split from the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray, and replaced him as Chief Minister last year. A disqualification petition against him under the anti-defection law is to be decided by the Maharashtra Speaker anytime, and in the event of a vacancy in the top post, Pawar Jr. might make it. The meltdown in the NCP leaves several leaders in the middle territory between the uncle and the nephew. The patriarch has vowed to take the defectors to task and rebuild the NCP with popular support, but at 82 that is going to be a test of his capacity. The splinter group has claimed it has the blessings of everyone in the party, implying a tacit understanding with the party founder. This is a smoke and mirrors game in which reality and perception are not easy to separate.
With the embrace of NCP defectors, the BJP has done yet another somersault in the State. The NCP and its leaders have been accused by the BJP of promoting dynastic rule and corruption. Several of those who have joined the BJP bandwagon are facing various investigations. The BJP, stung by the crossover of its long-standing ally, the Shiv Sena after the 2019 Assembly election, found an easy partner in Ajit Pawar, and he was Deputy Chief Minister in a short-lived government led by the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis. Pawar Jr. was Deputy Chief Minister again in the Congress-Shiv Sena-NCP government that followed. By assuming the office of Deputy Chief Minister as part of a third political configuration within the same Assembly, he has demonstrated the limitless possibilities of opportunism. New Ministers sworn in along with him on Sunday represent various social groups in the State. The mother faction of the NCP has initiated disqualification proceedings against the MLAs of the splinter group, which in turn is seeking the disqualification of MLAs Jayant Patil and Jitendra Awhad from the Assembly, two loyalists of senior Pawar. The splintering of the NCP casts a shadow on Opposition unity at the national level of which senior Pawar has been a proponent. It also shows the endless schemes in the BJP playbook to retain power, and adds fresh tensions in the existing alliance between the BJP and the Shinde faction of the Sena.