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NCP’s Internal Struggle Takes Bitter Turn as Sharad Pawar and Bhujbal Lock Horns

Weeks after Sharad Pawar held his debut rally following the NCP’s division in Yeola, Chhagan Bhujbal embarked on a new course, openly confronting his former leader over issues of corruption and their alliance with the BJP. Interestingly, Pawar seized the initiative, taking the battle to his erstwhile party colleagues and MLA constituents. While addressing at the Beed rally, which marked Pawar’s inaugural rally at Yeola – Bhujbal’s own stronghold – the seasoned politician took dig at Bhujbal.  He expressed regret for giving tickets to Bhujbal.

One cannot make charges and get away; he had to bear the consequences. So, Bhujbal, Minister of Food, Civil Supplies, and Consumer Protection, for the very first time, launched a counter offensive against Pawar. Drawing attention to a historical incident, Bhujbal stated, “Pawar saheb accepted my resignation as deputy CM during the Telgi scam, when I held the position of Home Minister. I was compelled to resign based on unfounded allegations that were never substantiated.” He further emphasized, “During 1992-94, grave allegations of corruption were levied by the then Deputy Municipal Commissioner, GR Khairnar, against Pawar. Yet, he did not step down.” Notably, Abdul Karim Telgi was the prime accused in a multimillion rupee counterfeit stamp paper scandal, with the BJP then implicating Bhujbal in providing support to Telgi.

Chhagan Bhujbal and Sharad Pawar Strategic Collaboration

Bhujbal, the son of a vegetable vendor who toiled hard to become a mechanical engineer, has had a life full of ups and downs. Bhujbal did what no other Shiv Sainik had then dared to do: Go against Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.  Back in 1991, Chhagan Bhujbal, alongside 16 Shiv Sena MLAs, defected from the Bal Thackeray-led party to join the Congress.

Bhujbal’s dissatisfaction with the Sena leadership stemmed from being denied the post of the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. Being an OBC leader from the Mali community, he also disagreed with Thackeray’s stance against the Mandal Commission’s recommended reservation policy.

Banking on Bhujbal’s anger, Sharad Pawar influenced him to make alliance with Congress Party. This move not only dealt a substantial blow to Thackeray but also brought a formidable Sena firebrand, a “street fighter” like Bhujbal, into the Congress fold.

Source PTI

In the year 1999, on June 10th, Sharad Pawar established the NCP, moving out from the Congress due to disagreements concerning Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin. Bhujbal was one of the first to lend his support to Pawar, thus marking the beginning of their alliance. Bhujbal became a trusted associate of Pawar within the NCP, their relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

Bhujbal’s Evolution and the Unfolding Drama

Bhujbal’s journey within the NCP saw him rise from the State NCP President to a two-time Deputy Chief Minister with significant portfolios like Home, Public Works Department, and Food and Civil Supplies. This upward trajectory was facilitated by Pawar’s mentorship and strategic assignments. 

However, on July 2 of the current year, Bhujbal, now 75 years old, chose to take an unexpected path by aligning with Ajit Pawar in a rebellion against Sharad Pawar and subsequently joining the Eknath Shinde Sena-BJP government. This decision sent shockwaves through the NCP and the political sphere at large. Bhujbal assumed the role of the Minister for Food and Civil Supplies within the coalition government, a move widely interpreted as an attempt to find common ground with the formidable BJP, which has maintained a grip on central governance since 2014.

Bhujbal’s Complex Legal Journey

Bhujbal’s political journey was interwoven with legal battles. In March 2016, he was arrested on charges of graft and money laundering in a case under the scrutiny of central agencies. He remained incarcerated until 2018, when he secured bail. During the tenure of the previous Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government led by Uddhav Thackeray, Bhujbal and seven others, including his son Pankaj Bhujbal and nephew Sameer Bhujbal, were absolved of charges in the Maharashtra Sadan case.

Navigating the Struggles: Sharad Pawar and Chhagan Bhujbal

In May of the current year, Sharad Pawar’s announcement of his resignation as the NCP president triggered a response from Bhujbal and other party leaders, who ultimately persuaded him to reverse the decision. Subsequently, Bhujbal revealed Pawar’s resolution to appoint two working presidents for the party, Supriya Sule and Praful Patel.

Nevertheless, Bhujbal’s recent aggressive stance against Pawar could potentially undermine the 82-year-old NCP chief’s efforts to rebuild the party in the wake of the schism resulting from Ajit Pawar’s rebellion. Ajit Pawar, on his part, remained cautious in his statements regarding the Pawar-Bhujbal confrontation, remarking, “I am not privy to the details, but it is imperative that we avoid using language that inflicts harm on others.”

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