Athavale says Sharad Pawar refused invite to join NDA

Sharad Pawar (in white)

Union minister and Republican Party of India leader Ramdas Athavale said he was aware of moves to woo Sharad Pawar Nationalist Congress Party to join with the BJP, but the patriarch had refused the invitation.

His comments came in the wake of Pawar’s nephew and NCP leader Ajit Pawar breaking away from the NCP and lending their support to the BJP, enabling the saffron party to form a government in Maharashtra.

Athavale said he was personally involved in trying to persuade Sharad Pawar to switch to the NDA, but he started having doubts about the plan when he saw that Congress was coming round to the idea of supporting Shiv Sena.

“I knew this [efforts to bring NCP onboard] was going on, but yesterday, when there were reports that the three parties [NCP, Congress & Shiv Sena] are coming together, I too started doubting whether it will happen,” he told media people in the context of the government formation by the BJP, an ally of the Republican Party of India.

“I had also met Sharad Pawar to ensure that BJP and NCP came together to form a government. I was trying, but this has happened suddenly…

“It was Devendra Fadnavis’ dream to become the chief minister again for five years,” he said.

Sounding regretful, Athavale blamed both the BJP and the Shiv Sena for the breaking of the 25-year-old alliance that led to the present situation.

“If Uddhav wanted to become CM, perhaps something could have been worked out. I had also put forward the formula of 3:2 years [for BJP and Shiv Sena chief ministers]. But neither the BJP nor the Shiv Sena was willing to accept this. They simply didn’t want to stay together anymore.

“This left no other option before the BJP but to join with NCP in a government. I too have been saying that if Congress doesn’t support Shiv Sena, BJP will form a government with the support of the NCP,” he said.

BJP has formed a rival front with an NCP faction led by Ajit Pawar, literally on the eve of the Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP announcing a plan to form a government of their own.

BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis took oath as the chief minister early morning today, with Ajit Pawar as his deputy. Ajit Pawar has reportedly claimed the support of 35 out of the 54 NCP MLAs, which means that the formation now requires the support of only 5 more MLAs.

On Friday, the Maharashtra governor had cancelled his programs for today in anticipation of political developments taking place in the state.

The Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP had been warned of the possibility of such splits in their parties, but the three found talks to form a government prolonged by the opposition by a section of Congress leaders in Delhi, particularly those from Kerala.

The leaders, led by AK Antony, opposed any such tie-up with the Shiv Sena, fearing that doing so will dampen chances of the Congress coming back to power in Kerala in 2021.

However, after nearly a week of intense discussions, Congress’ Maharashtra leaders were able to convince the high-command to go in for the tie-up.

It was expected that the three parties would announce their plans to form a government today.