Mumbai: A day after Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar resigned as the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, his supporters in the party on Wednesday came out to protest outside the state Assembly building, blaming Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan for the crisis.
The Congress, however, made it clear that Chavan would stay as the Chief Minister, even as NCP chief Sharad Pawar said his party would support them. But are ties more strained under the surface?
Meanwhile, in the first direct attack on Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, the NCP accused him of using the white paper on irrigation to target them.
"When the irrigation minister has already made his presentation, then why has the white paper not been tabled? Why the delay? (Is it) to keep the clouds of suspicion hanging?" said senior NCP leader Jitendra Avhad.
The NCP maintained that it was not on them, but up to the Congress to decide on the whether there would be a leadership change in Maharashtra.
"Whether to recall Prithviraj Chavan to Delhi or change the Chief Minister is up to the Congress," said Sharad Pawar.
While his nephew's resignation as the Deputy CM may be aimed at forcing the Congress hand to recall Chavan on the eve of the Cabinet reshuffle at the Centre, many also believe that this has brought the leadership tussle brewing in the NCP out in the open.
Despite Sharad Pawar's public statement that no minister or MLA would resign, several MLAs, both from the NCP and Independents, threatened to withdraw support if Ajit Pawar was replaced as Deputy CM.
The party leadership also clarified that Ajit Pawar would not be replaced.
Senior party leader Praful Patel said, "This is rubbish. Ait Pawar will not be replaced."
Chavan's rivals in the party are watching the developments with keen interest, but can the Congress party afford to replace Prithviraj Chavan, who is perceived as cracking down on corruption?
Sources in the Congress party say the change of guard may not come immediately but could be affected in the months ahead. Friday's meet of NCP MLAs chaierd by Sharad Pawar will determine the dynamics and the future of long standing but often uneasy alliance in Maharashtra.
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