NEW DELHI, Feb 7: Amidst huge setback to the 84-year old veteran politician Sharad Pawar with his nephew’s faction being held the “real” Nationalist Congress Party by the Election Commission of India, the founder president of the party on Wednesday submitted three alternatives names and symbol for the party for allocation to his faction.
Even as the Sharad Pawar faction kept a brave face to overcome the setback, the ECI decision to recognise the Ajit Pawar faction to be the “real” NCP was on the expected line as the recognition is granted purely on the majority of the legislature party, the stand the election commission had adopted previously in deciding on the two factions of the Shiv Sena after the split in the party. Of the 53 NCP members of the Maharashtra Assembly, only 12 stayed with the Sharad Pawar faction.
With the Sharad Pawar faction said it was contemplating to challenge the ECI decision in the Supreme Court, the Ajit Pawar faction filed a caveat to ensure that no ex-parte decision was taken in favour of the Sharad Pawar faction without hearing it.
The Sharad Pawar faction submitted a list of three names to the Election Commission, as directed after he lost control of the party he has led since it was founded in 1999. Sources said the names suggested included Nationalist Congress Party Sharad Pawar, Nationalist Congress Party Sharad Chandra Pawar, and Nationalist Congress Party Sharad Rao Pawar. Mr Pawar has also suggested symbols to identify his party. These are the rising sun (a variation of which is allotted to Tamil Nadu’s ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and a banyan tree. The NCP’s original symbol – a clock is now with Ajit Pawar faction.
Sources said the 84-year-old Sharad Pawar held several meetings with lawyers and party leaders to come up with a name. The party, sources said, is keen on keeping either ‘Nationalist’ or Mr Pawar’s name front-and-centre, to counter a potential bleeding of votes in centre and state elections.
A challenge, party leaders have admitted, is spreading awareness about any new name so close to an election since voters, particularly in rural areas, will identify the clock image with Sharad Pawar. Other names considered were Sharad Pawar Congress and Sharad Pawar Swabhimani Paksh.
On Tuesday the Election Commission awarded the party name and symbol to Ajit Pawar, arguing his group is the ‘real’ Nationalist Congress Party because it has more MLAs in the state Assembly. Sharad Pawar was given till 4 pm today to come up with an alternative name.
The poll body’s decision – which played out exactly as the Sena vs Sena fight, in which the faction led by Eknath Shinde (made Chief Minister after breaking the Shiv Sena and allying with the BJP) was recognised as the ‘real Sena’ – has been fiercely criticised by lawmakers loyal to Sharad Pawar.
“The whole world knows who founded the NCP… So what the Election Commission did despite that is the murder of democracy by the election commission,” Anil Deshmukh, a former Minister, said.
Amidst the setback, those with Sharad Pawar have put on a brave face, hinting at an unrest in the splinter group that would result in many of their MLAs returning to the parent outfit.
”There is unrest in Ajit Pawar’s camp. Many MLAs are in touch with us and they have expressed their wish to cross over to our side. There will soon be a ‘ghar wapsi’,” said Mr Anil Deshmukh who is with Sharad Pawar’s faction. Deshmukh said not only the NCP MLAs who joined hands with Ajit Pawar were unhappy, but those with the BJP were also upset.
”Our party is intact and will remain so even after the EC verdict. But our rivals have a problem on hand. Many rival MLAs will join our ranks before the elections. As of now, they are with their parties as they need funds for development of their constituencies. But that will change soon,” Deshmukh remarked.
Ajit Pawar’s camp, however, dismissed the chances of MLAs exiting their ranks. ”Now that we are the real NCP, there is no question of anyone exiting our ranks. In fact, there will be migration to our fold soon,” NCP chief spokesperson Umesh Patil said. Patil said Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar had been saying that party doors were open for one and all. ”Even after the EC verdict, Pawar has maintained the same position. Our doors are open for everyone,” he said.
The NCP said 95 per cent of the party was already with Ajit Pawar. ”A handful of NCP workers have a problem of not joining us due to their political convenience. Some leaders want to contest elections from a particular constituency which is with BJP or Shinde’s Sena. They fear they will not get to contest and therefore they are not with us. Everyone has political ambitions, which we cannot deny,” Patil said.
The Ajit Pawar faction filed a caveat in the Supreme Court seeking a hearing if the Sharad Pawar group moves before it challenging the ECI order. The caveat has been filed through advocate Abhikalp Pratap Singh to ensure that no ex-parte order is passed against the Ajit Pawar faction if the other group moves the top court.