Maharashtra speaker’s boost for Ajit Pawar in NCP vs NCP | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Maharashtra speaker’s boost for Ajit Pawar in NCP vs NCP

By, Mumbai
Feb 16, 2024 01:57 AM IST

The speaker – who had been asked by the apex court to announce his decision by February 15 -- dismissed disqualification petitions filed by either faction.

Maharashtra assembly speaker Rahul Narwekar ruled on Thursday that deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar’s party was the real Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and turned down demands to disqualify either faction’s lawmakers, marking a victory for the state’s ruling coalition just months ahead of general elections.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) workers celebrate following the Maharashtra Assembly Speaker's decision, outside the party office, in Mumbai on Thursday. (ANI)
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) workers celebrate following the Maharashtra Assembly Speaker's decision, outside the party office, in Mumbai on Thursday. (ANI)

The decision – which came weeks after the Election Commission of India also ruled against NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar – is another jolt to the senior leader. Narwekar held that the test of legislative majority was decided in favour of Ajit Pawar after the other two grounds — party constitution and leadership structure -- were found to be inconclusive.

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The decision was similar to Narwekar’s ruling in the Sena vs Sena case in January, where he also found in favour of chief minister Eknath Shinde but refused to disqualify lawmakers of either faction. The battle for both regional behemoths, the Sena and the NCP, is now likely to be decided in the Supreme Court.

“…I hold that the preliminary issue as to which faction is the real political party is discernible from the legislative majority, which existed when the rival factions emerged. Further I hold that the Ajit Pawar faction had an overwhelming legislative majority when the rival factions emerged,” Narwekar said in a 22-page ruling.

The speaker – who had been asked by the apex court to announce his decision by February 15 -- dismissed disqualification petitions filed by either faction, saying that the grounds mentioned did not fall under the jurisdiction of the 10th schedule of the Constitution that deals with the defection of elected representatives.

He, however, decided to reserve his verdict on the chief whip of the party, which is expected to come within a week.

The decision sparked a political controversy.

Sharad Pawar faction leader Jitendra Awhad called it a ridiculous judgment. “The assembly speaker Narwekar is playing the role of Dhritarashtra and has become shameless,” he said.

Anil Patil, whip of the Ajit Pawar faction, said that Narwekar gave the verdict as per law.

On February 6, ECI termed the Ajit Pawar faction as the real NCP and allowed it to use the party’s name and its electoral symbol. The next day, Sharad Pawar’s faction was renamed Nationalist Congress Party – Sharadchandra Pawar, and was recognised by ECI as a temporary move for the Rajya Sabha polls slated on February 27.

The twin decisions are a boost to the Ajit Pawar-led faction as it safeguards the ruling coalition and affirms Ajit Pawar’s control over the NCP, leaving Sharad Pawar and his supporters to approach the Supreme Court with just months to go for crucial general elections. It also caps, for now, a feud between Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit, who joined hands with the BJP and Shinde in a surprise move in 2023.

In his ruling, the speaker proclaimed the NCP split as intraparty dissent and termed the disqualification petition filed against the Ajit Pawar faction as a tool to silence the opposition against Sharad Pawar.

He said forging new alliances and undoing old relationships is the reality of today’s politics and cannot constitute defections.

“I see members, their political leaders and their parties as if through a kaleidoscope: making and breaking into new forms, forging new alliances, undoing old relationships, striking out in unknown directions. This is in the very nature of politics as we see it unfolding before our eyes. It is the reality of politics today. Surely every such action cannot qualify as defection within the meaning of the 10th schedule,” Narwekar said.

To determine which faction constituted the real NCP, he determined three grounds —party constitution, leadership structure and legislative majority.

Narwekar said there was no dispute about the constitution of the NCP, and both factions claimed that their leader was validly elected, the speaker found legislative majority as the only relevant criterion.

He said that the claim of the Ajit Pawar faction that it had the support of 41 of the party’s 53 legislators was not disputed by the Sharad Pawar faction. They also didn’t dispute that the Ajit Pawar faction held a majority not only in the Maharashtra assembly but also in the legislative council and the Nagaland assembly.

Narwekar said that the developments in the NCP were the result of intraparty dissent and the 10th Schedule was being misused to suppress dissent. He said that the principal ground for seeking disqualification could not stand as the Ajit Pawar faction was the real NCP. “Consequently, the disqualification petition is liable to be dismissed.”

But he also turned down disqualification petitions filed by the Ajit Pawar led faction against tenmembers of the Sharad Pawar faction, saying that none of the contentions argued by the Ajit Pawar faction fell into the jurisdiction of the 10th schedule.

“I have given orders based on the constitutional provisions and directives of the Supreme Court. I have also cited all the past rulings in this regard in my order. I will not comment on those who do not understand the difference between dissent and defection,” Narwekar said.

Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Aaditya Thackeray took a dig at the speaker. “He seems to be great at making a big joke of the democracy and constitutional values we uphold,” he said.

Congress chief spokesperson Atul Londhe termed the verdict as a pre-decided judgment. “BJP has seized all democratic institutions and the judgment by the speaker is its best example.”

The decision marks the latest twist in the protracted political tussle that began in 2022, when the then Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance government — comprising the Shiv Sena, NCP, and the Congress — collapsed after a vertical split in the Sena saw Shinde take oath as CM as part of an alliance with the BJP. Former CM Devendra Fadnavis took oath as his deputy.

Then in July 2023, Ajit Pawar broke away from his uncle and took oath as Maharashtra deputy CM, alongside eight other loyalist lawmakers who took charge as ministers.

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    Faisal is with the political team and covers state administration and state politics. He also covers NCP.

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