What comes next for Sharad Pawar after losing NCP's name, symbol to Ajit Pawar?

What comes next for Sharad Pawar after losing NCP's name, symbol to Ajit Pawar?

Feb 7, 2024 - 15:30
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What comes next for Sharad Pawar after losing NCP's name, symbol to Ajit Pawar?

Sharad Pawar suffered a major setback on Tuesday (6 February) after the Election Commission of India (ECI) recognised Ajit Pawar-led faction as the real Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The poll body awarded the party name and its ‘clock’ symbol to the camp led by senior Pawar’s nephew, Ajit.

The EC also gave a one-time concession to the Sharad Pawar-led faction to select a new name and symbol for the party for the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections for six seats in Maharashtra by 4 pm on Wednesday.

This comes nearly a year after the EC recognised Eknath Shinde-led faction of the Shiv Sena as the official Shiv Sena, in a blow to Uddhav Thackeray.

Why did the EC award the NCP name and symbol to the Ajit Pawar camp? What have been the reactions to the development? What will Sharad Pawar do now? Let’s take a closer look.

What did the Election Commission say?

The EC said in its order on Tuesday that it based its decision on the “test of legislative majority” in the Ajit Pawar faction. Last July, the junior Pawar, who is currently the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, revolted against his uncle and split the NCP into two groups.

According to the ECI order, out of the total 81 MPs, MLAs, and MLCs of the NCP, 57 had backed Ajit Pawar and 28 had supported his uncle, reported Indian Express. However, five MLAs and one Lok Sabha MP gave affidavits supporting both factions. Even after excluding these six, the Ajit Pawar camp had the majority, the order stated.

“Ajit Pawar faction enjoyed majority support of legislators. (The) commission holds that Ajit Pawar is the Nationalist Congress Party and is entitled to use its name and reserved symbol of ‘clock’,” ThePrint quoted the ECI order as saying.

Reactions to the ECI order

The Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP termed the ECI order a “murder of democracy”.

“We all know that NCP was formed by Sharad Pawar and he was the president of the party. But this way the decision taken, because of pressure, is a murder of democracy. This is unfortunate,” Anil Deshmukh, an MLA of the Sharad Pawar camp, told the media.

NCP MP and Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule said the election body’s ruling was the “victory of the invisible power”. “This is a huge conspiracy against Maharashtra and Marathi people. However, I am not at all surprised by this decision,” PTI quoted her as saying.

Ajit Pawar camp and its ruling coalition welcomed the EC order. The junior Pawar said he accepts the decision “with humility”. “In a democracy, priority is given to the majority which is why the poll commission has allotted the party name and symbol to us”.

ncp ajit pawar
Ajit Pawar faction’s supporters celebrate after ECI announced his camp as the real NCP, in Mumbai, 6 Febaruary. PTI

Senior NCP leader Praful Patel said the ECI ruling showed that the majority of NCP workers and elected representatives are with Ajit Pawar.

“We welcome the ruling of the EC…We live in a democracy and any decision can be challenged. Maybe attempts will be made to challenge this at the Supreme Court or high court… All I would like to say is that the decision we made was correct and through EC, our decision has been proven correct,” Patel, who belongs to the Ajit Pawar faction, reportedly said.

Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis also welcomed the poll body’s decision. “The Election Commission has given the verdict based on merit and majority. The majority has an important role in democracy. The ECI took a similar decision during our case as well,” Shinde said, as per NDTV.

Fadnavis congratulated Ajit Pawar in a post on X.

What next for Sharad Pawar?

The Sharad Pawar camp has said it will approach the Supreme Court against the ECI ruling. Sule said the Uddhav Thackeray-led faction of Shiv Sena faced the same situation. “I think what happened with Shiv Sena is happening to us today. So, this is not a new order. Just the names have been changed, the content is the same. We will fight. We will definitely go to the Supreme Court,” she was quoted as saying by NDTV.

The Baramati MP said Sharad Pawar has the support of the organisation, and, as per the Supreme Court verdict, only the organisation decides who the party belongs to, reported Indian Express.

“Sharad Pawar raised this party from zero at the age of 60, and he can do it again,” she said.

Jayant Patil, Maharashtra president of the Sharad Pawar group, said the Election Commission’s ruling was contrary to a Supreme Court order in a related issue. “The Supreme Court (in the past) said that even though MLAs shift their loyalty, the party does not follow them. Despite this, the ECI has given a decision based on the elected representatives and their inclination,” he said, as per PTI.

While the Supreme Court battle could be long-drawn, the Sharad Pawar faction’s first task at hand is to declare a new name and symbol for the party.

The ECI has told the senior Pawar-led group to claim a name and provide three choices to the body. If they fail to file an application by 4 pm on 7 February, their MLAs will be considered independents, reported ThePrint.

As per NDTV sources, the veteran leader is likely to finalise a name for the party with the word “nationalist” in it. “Spectacles”, “rising sun” and “sunflower” are some of the options for the party’s new symbol. The “rising sun”, “wheel”, and “tractor” were some other options being considered, Indian Express reported.

Sule said they will take a decision in the matter on Wednesday.

The Sharad Pawar camp also faces the challenge of making people, especially in rural areas, aware of its new name and symbol with just months left for Lok Sabha elections and state Assembly polls.

While Sharad Pawar remains a key part of the Opposition INDIA bloc, his bargaining power during seat-sharing talks could take a hit after the ECI ruling, according to NDTV. His camp is expected to continue to ally with the Congress and Thackeray-led Shiv Sena (UBT) in Maharashtra.

Meanwhile, the judgement in the disqualification pleas against MLAs of both NCP factions is before Maharashtra Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar who is yet to announce his verdict. The hearing in the case culminated on 31 January, while the ruling is expected by 15 February.

With inputs from agencies

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