NCP brings new flavour to 'Aya Ram, Gaya Ram' phenomenon

Many unsure MLAs absent themselves from Assembly, others switch sides more than once in a single day

Ajit Pawar takes oath as deputy chief minister of Maharashtra (Photo: IANS)
Ajit Pawar takes oath as deputy chief minister of Maharashtra (Photo: IANS)

Sujata Anandan

The Nationalist Congress Party has given a unique flavour to the term ‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’. That terminology appeared first in the Indian political lexicon when, in the 1960s, an MLA from Haryana called Ram changed his party thrice in a single day. After the anti-defection law was passed in the 1980s, there was a stop to the phenomenon of the singular Aya Rams and Gaya Rams as any political party breaking away now requires the support of two-thirds of its MLAs to emerge as a new force.

However, single MLAs defecting need to resign the seats they contested on their party’s symbol and re-run on a new symbol. Not everyone is confident of accomplishing that task, most defectors in recent years have sought safety in numbers.

Thus when Eknath Shinde split the Shiv Sena a year ago, he made sure he had the support of at least 40 of the party’s 56 MLAs, just about clearing the two-thirds mark.

But now a year later Ajit Pawar, the nephew of Sharad Pawar, the president of the Nationalist Congress Party, is by no means sure of the same. On July 2, when he switched sides, he claimed he had the support of 32 of the party’s 53 MLAs. However, his troubles began two weeks later when only 15 of these 32 MLAs were seen sitting alongside him on the treasury benches on the first day of the monsoon session of the state legislature. As many as 27 MLAs, some of them from the Sharad Pawar camp, absented themselves from the House.

As the session progressed, a completely new phenomenon was seen unfolding in the Maharashtra Assembly. Many of Ajit’s MLAs have been going back and forth crossing the floor between the treasury and the opposition benches, unsure of where they really belong and since then Ajit’s show of MLAs has not gone above 25 at any one time, with many of them continuing to remain absent.

Jitendra Awhad, the leader of the opposition and also chief whip of the party, had written to the Speaker ahead of the Assembly session that only the nine NCP men sworn in as ministers in the Shinde government should be considered defectors and that the rest belonged to the original NCP. Pawar, making use of his enormous clout with the masses, had issued a statement earlier that he expected all of his MLAs to return to his side within a few days and if they did not he would know what to make of them. A subtle threat, it seemed.

For, most of these men have businesses like sugar co-operatives, dairy farms and banks over which Pawar continues to extend tremendous influence despite being in the opposition, even the BJP has not been able to break his stranglehold over this sector in so many years. These MLAs are thus wary that their political ambitions might affect their business interests, and these are not mutually exclusive. Members of such co-operatives are largely farmers and they vote for the chairperson of their co-operatives, usually the local MLA or MP.

So, of a day, there have been many comings and goings between the two sides. One MLA, Makrand Patil, shifted thrice in the span of a single day, first seen with Ajit, then with the opposition and back to Ajit again. However, in the absence of the Speaker’s decision on recognition of the Ajit Pawar group as the official NCP, there is no clarity on who should sit where though rules of the Legislature broadly decree that the ruling party sits on the treasury benches and the opposition parties directly opposite them in the Houses of the legislature as well as the parliament.

The NCP split is going differently from how the Shiv Sena split had played out. Uddhav Thackeray had approached the Supreme Court for the disqualification of 18 of the 40 MLAs with the Shinde group and the Apex court has directed the Speaker to take a decision on the same. While his office is dilly-dallying over the decision, Sharad Pawar is playing it differently, not taking the legal route and leaving it to the good sense of his party MLAs, in a subtle message of fear or favour, to return to the fold. Or not.

However, that quite worries Ajit Pawar as, barring the nine ministers sworn in, the rest are all said to be in two minds about which way to swing. His calls on his uncle earlier this week were said to be in order to ascertain his mind about what he plans to do but while Pawar gave Ajit and his supporters a patient hearing, he offered no assurances.

That has kept the MLAs going back and forth, not just between uncle and nephew but also between two sides of the House as well, creating a comic situation of sorts, unprecedented in Indian political history.

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