Mumbai: NCP pressed for re-induction of its leader Ajit Pawar in Maharashtra Cabinet, two months after he quit as Deputy Chief Minister over irrigation scam, apparently to checkmate lead alliance partner Congress which is taking credit for allotment of prime land here for Ambedkar memorial.
NCP sources said the earlier plan was to carry out an elaborate cabinet reshuffle in January in which a few ministers were to be dropped and new faces, including state NCP President Madhukar Pichad, inducted. Congress was also ready for such an exercise.
The scenario, however, changed on December 5 when the Centre announced the transfer of 12.5 acre land of India United Mill (known as Indu Mill) to Maharashtra government for a memorial of Dalit icon B R Ambedkar. The land belongs to National Textiles Corp which falls under the Union Textiles Ministry.
The announcement came just two days after Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who belongs to Congress, met Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and raised the issue of land transfer.
"The manner in which the events unfolded on December 4 and 5, the NCP think-tank decided that the party should not lie low for long. In the last two months since Ajit's resignation, Congress had been behaving as if this was a single party government," NCP sources said.
NCP leader Vijay Kamble had been in forefront of the movement to demand transfer of the land in central Mumbai for constructing the Dalit icon's memorial. In fact, the demand was included in NCP's charter released on June 10 last year.
"We agree that Congress was with us in this aspect. But it was NCP which had taken the initiative and somewhere we felt that the Chief Minister and Congress party were walking away with all the credit," the sources said.
The sources said the NCP letter to the Chief Minister after UPA won the FDI vote in Lok Sabha, asking him not to take decision regarding implementation of FDI in retail without consulting the Sharad Pawar-led party was aimed at putting pressure on Congress.
NCP, which is in alliance with Congress in Maharashtra since 1999, moved swiftly and yesterday gave a letter to Chavan seeking Ajit's re-induction into the government.
The sources noted that when the Chief Minister was in Delhi to discuss the land transfer, he was accompanied by only Congress MPs and leaders, including PCC chief Manikrao Thakre. NCP MPs, including Praful Patel and Supriya Sule, daughter of party chief Sharad Pawar, were not invited, they claimed.
Similarly, Chavan addressed the media on the land issue on December 6 alone. "He should have asked our senior leader Chhagan Bhujbal to come along with him," they said.
"NCP has to cater to its Dalit votebank and cannot let the credit slip away from its hands," the sources said.
Another issue was the government leadership in the Legislative Council as the winter session of the state legislature is beginning in Nagpur from December 10.
"In the state, the Chief Minister leads the government in the Legislative Assembly and Deputy Chief Minister in the Legislative Council. The government did not have forceful speakers in the Upper House," the sources added.
They said NCP was not worried about the Opposition onslaught during the winter session.
"Irrespective of Ajit's presence in the ministry, the government would have to respond to the allegations regarding irrigation. We are ready to debate and reject all the allegations," the sources said.
Ajit was sworn-in today, days after a government white paper on irrigation gave him a clean chit. The 53-year-old NCP leader had quit as Deputy CM in September-end following allegations of irregularities in award of irrigation contracts when he was Water Resources Minister from 1999-2009.