BJP Delivers A `Maha’ Jolt To Value-Based Politics By Splitting The NCP

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India Tomorrow

NEW DELHI—On July 2, Ajit Pawar, a senior leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Leader of the Opposition in Maharashtra and the nephew of NCP supremo, Sharad Pawar, joined the Shiv Sena and BJP-led government by taking oath as the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Ajit Pawar took the oath in Raj Bhavan along with eight NCP MLAs who were inducted as ministers in the Shinde–Fadnavis government. The NCP has 53 MLAs in the Vidhan Sabha. Ajit Pawar claims to have the backing of 40 MLAs and expects seven more to join him soon. Following the coup in the NCP, the broad configuration in the 288-member Assembly is as follows: BJP is the largest party in Maharashtra with 105 MLAs followed by INC with 45, NCP (Ajit Pawar) with 40, Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde) with 40 and Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray) with 17 and NCP (Sharad Pawar) with 13 MLAs.

News about the vertical split in the NCP sent shock waves across political circles and set off a series of events like the expulsion of those who deserted the party and a scramble by the NCP to salvage its remaining MLAs and retain the position of Leader of the Opposition in the legislature. The letter addressing the rebel MLAs of the NCP read, “The State Discipline Committee passed a resolution dated 2 July 2023recorded the factum of disqualification of the said 9 (nine) MLAs from the party

due to their indulgence in anti-party activities. It is recorded that the fact these defections were done in such a secretive manner, without the knowledge or consent of the Party President, amounts to desertion of the party, which in turn invites disqualification. Your actions of supporting Ajit Pawar and the eight other MLAs, who have sworn oath as Ministers in violation of the party’s direction and mandate, ex-facie amount to anti-party activities and that you deemed to have voluntarily left the membership of Nationalist Congress Party. I formally remove your names from the Membership Register of the Party in view of your actions of voluntarily giving up membership of the Nationalist Congress Party.” A disqualification petition was also moved against the nine MLAs to the Maharashtra Speaker Rahul Narwekar.

While BJP is receiving adulation for engineering another rebellion within the Opposition, many do not see this as a masterstroke but as a massive jolt to value-based politics and the repudiation of its claim to be a “party with a difference” that occupies the moral high ground. The BJP and its admirers see the developments as a setback to the efforts of the Opposition to forge a united alliance against the BJP in 2024. However, even this conclusion might be presumptuous if we look at the electoral history of those who rebelled against their original parties. The merger of the NCP faction into the BJP-led government in Maharashtra could also be perceived as an ideological compromise because the NCP is a secular party that does not advocate or support the Hindutva politics of the BJP.

The eight MLAs who took oath as ministers along with Ajit Pawar are Chhagan Bhujbal, Dilip Walse Patil, Hasan Mushrif, Dhananjay Munde, Dharmaraobaba Atram, Aditi Tatkare, Sanjay Bansode, and Anil Patil. Senior NCP leader and Rajya Sabha MP, Praful Patel also joined the Ajit camp. Many of these NCP stalwarts who joined the BJP-SS

In 2012, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) of Maharashtra registered a case against Ajit Pawar and several other people in connection with the irrigation scam. The ACB alleges that Pawar and his associates caused a loss of over Rs. 70,000 crores to the state exchequer. For almost two and a half decades, the BJP projected Ajit Pawar as the symbol of corruption and nepotism in Maharashtra. Today he sits pretty with BJP Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis as his equal in the government.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has accused Bhujbal and his family members of laundering money through shell companies. The ED alleges that Bhujbal received kickbacks for awarding contracts to favored contractors and that he used these kickbacks to buy assets and property in his own name and the names of his family members. In 2016, Bhujbal was arrested by the ED on charges of money laundering. He was released on bail in 2018. In 2022, a special court discharged Bhujbal and his son in the Maharashtra Sadan case. However, the ED is still investigating the money laundering case against Bhujbal.

Hasan Mushrif is facing criminal allegations of money laundering and corruption. In January 2023, the ED raided several properties linked to Mushrif and his family. The ED seized several documents and electronic devices during the raids. The charge sheet alleges that Mushrif and his associates laundered over Rs. 35 crores through shell companies Last year, the ED attached four floors of a commercial building belonging to senior NCP leader, Praful Patel. The said property was linked with a money laundering case that involved a henchman from the Dawood Ibrahim gang.

The BJP fancies itself as a practitioner of value-based politics. The Prime Minister likes to brand himself as a crusader against corruption. His poll slogan of “na khaunga na khane doonga” (nor will I be corrupt nor allow others to be corrupt) now rings hollow. In fact, just a week before, while addressing a rally in Bhopal, PM Modi said, “If I talk about the NCP, it is also accused of scams worth Rs 70,000 crores. Maharashtra Coop Bank scam, Maharashtra Irrigation scam, Disproportionate Asset scam… the list is very long. The corruption meter of these parties never goes down.”

How can the BJP now justify joining hands with the same NCP it accused of massive corruption? The Maha-coup engineered by the BJP puts it in the same league as the parties it blamed for money laundering and looting the public exchequer. By collaborating with the NCP, the BJP has lost the high moral ground it claimed to occupy. It has completely abandoned its tag of “the party with a difference.” By compromising with corruption in such a brazen manner, the largest political party in India has weakened democracy and allowed its critics to call it “the party that blurs its differences with the corrupt.”

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