New Delhi:

The Congress today indicated that they are standing with Sharad Pawar as they watch the evolving situation in Maharashtra and within ally Nationalist Congress Party. Party chief Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi dialled Mr Pawar after his nephew Ajit Pawar took oath as the Deputy Chief Minister today, engineering a split in the party.

In his interaction with the media, Ajit Pawar claimed he has the support of practically the whole party and claimed its name.

But Congress’s former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said the number of MLAs following Ajit Pawar is not confirmed. He also made it clear that veteran leader Sharad Pawar, one of the most astute politicians in the country, will put up a fight – at least in the people’s court.

Sharad Pawar has “risen from ashes earlier and he is starting his campaign from tomorrow,” Mr Chavan said. He also pointed out that the rebels will ultimately have to face the grassroot leaders and if they disapprove, the rebellion will be over. “They will have to come back because ultimately, they have to fight elections,” he said.  

Most importantly, there is also no clarity about the fate of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde in the ruling alliance, Mr Chavan added.

“The disqualification petition against Eknath Shinde has to be settled before 11th of August, that is within 90 days from the day the Supreme Court remitted it to the Speaker. We are very sure that Eknath Shinde and his 60 colleagues will be disqualified because it is an open and shut case,” Mr Chavan told NDTV in an exclusive interview.  

“If they get disqualified, then we will need a new Chief Minister. Now have the BJP given a promise to Ajit Pawar that he will succeed Eknath Shinde? We do not know,” he added.

Accusing the BJP of trying to break the opposition, Mr Chavan said there was “no way the BJP could have faced an onslaught of combined opposition”.

For the NCP, the outlook is not bad, he indicated. “The people who left with Ajit Pawar have serious ED (Enforcement Directorate) inquiries (against them). You can say that the ED faction of the NCP has left,” Mr Chavan said.

Asked about the Congress being left as the only unbroken party in the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance, Mr Chavan älleged that the BJP had tried to break the Congress before, but two-thirds number is 30 MLAs which will not be easy… one or two may join”.

The Congress, he added, is guarding its flock and will hold a meeting on Tuesday to ensure that all is well.

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