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NCP leader’s move to Shiv Sena just the beginning, Maharashtra readies for opposition exodus

Lok Sabha poll drubbing, disarray in Congress could see more opposition leaders defecting to ruling BJP-Shiv Sena combine ahead of Maharashtra elections.

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Mumbai: A beleaguered opposition in Maharashtra received a fresh jolt Thursday, three months ahead of the state assembly elections, when the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) too lost its Mumbai leadership. This after Mumbai Congress president Milind Deora decided to step down earlier this month.

NCP’s Mumbai chief Sachin Ahir, a former minister of state in the previous Congress-NCP government, quit the party to join the Shiv Sena along with his cadre, saying “sometimes difficult decisions have to be taken in politics as per the situation”.

Ahir’s defection is only the latest in a series of desertions from the Congress and NCP towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena coalition, and according to multiple sources across parties, more leaders are likely to cross over as polls draw closer.

Ahir, a 47-year-old former legislator who has a significant hold on south-central Mumbai, especially Worli, said, “I like the vision of Aaditya Thackeray for development of the state and especially its urban areas, and felt that I should support such young leaders.”

He, however, added that he will always have a bond with NCP Chief Sharad Pawar.

“I met Pawar saheb last week and gave him a lowdown on the situation in my assembly constituency of Worli but did not mention my decision,” Ahir said. “I wouldn’t like to name anyone but informally some within the party disagreed with my decision, but some, looking at today’s political situation, even supported my decision.”

Opposition struggling to keep flock together

The Congress and NCP are struggling to keep their flock together following their dismal performance in the Lok Sabha elections and administrative challenges, especially in the Congress. The Congress won just one Lok Sabha seat while the NCP managed to win just four of the 48 constituencies in Maharashtra.

Since the Lok Sabha election, at least two NCP leaders — former minister Jaidutt Kshirsagar and Shahapur MLA Pandurang Barora — have joined the Shiv Sena. Kshirsagar is now also a minister in the recently-expanded Fadnavis cabinet.

There are talks of more leaders wanting to make a beeline for the ruling parties. For example, NCP legislator Vaibhav Pichad, son of party leader Madhukar Pichad, is said to be in talks to join the BJP and met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis at his official residence, Varsha, Wednesday evening.

As Ahir joined the Shiv Sena Thursday, there were rumours of NCP’s Chhagan Bhujbal, a former Shiv Sainik who was behind bars for nearly two years in connection with a money laundering case, too returning to the Sena fold. Bhujbal, however, dismissed the rumours, saying, “There is no truth in these speculations.”

While most senior NCP leaders were unavailable to speak after Ahir’s defection, party spokesperson and former MLA Nawab Malik said, “Those who do not have the confidence of winning the assembly election are going to the BJP and Shiv Sena for their own political benefit. It has nothing to do with the NCP’s organisational strength.”

More defections likely from Congress too

From the Congress too, there are talks of at least seven to eight legislators likely joining the ruling parties, a party source said.

The Congress has already lost its leader of opposition, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who joined the Devendra Fadnavis-led state cabinet as the housing minister last month. It had also expelled its MLA Abdul Sattar before the Lok Sabha election for campaigning for an Independent candidate.

Party sources say there are now rumours of Congress legislators Jaykumar Gore, Kalidas Kolambkar, Nitesh Rane and Bharat Bhalke too joining the BJP. Bhalke even hosted Fadnavis at his residence in Pandharpur earlier this month when the CM was in the pilgrimage town for the customary puja on the occasion of Ashadhi Ekadashi.

“Nationally, the Congress is in such a state of disarray without a leader that it has no time to look at what is happening in the states. We are aware that 7-8 leaders are looking to defect and a few senior leaders in Maharashtra have been trying to hold talks with them,” a senior Congress leader who did not wish to be named said. “Some are disillusioned about the future of the party and want to jump to the BJP for their own political careers.”

He added that the ruling parties are strong-arming a few leaders into defecting by using government machinery to find irregularities in the institutions, cooperatives and factories that they head. “They then threaten these leaders with action and make them defect. It is said NCP legislator Hasan Mushrif did not give in to the BJP and there was a raid at his house,” the Congress leader said.

The Income Tax department on Thursday raided Mushrif’s house at Kagal taluka of Kolhapur district as well as at the premises of the Sarsenapati Santaji Ghorpade mill, which his family manages. Last week, Mushrif reportedly shot down BJP state president Chandrakant Patil’s open offer to join the party at a public function in Kolhapur.

Also read: Defections haunt Congress in Maharashtra, party may lose opposition leader post in Assembly

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  1. It’s a shame that in defeat the so called leaders are turning to party in power to get a piece (call it leg) of power. How can people call them leader, some time if BJP Shiv sena is out of power what “difficult” “decision they will take.

  2. The Congress is suffering from multiple organ failure. With each passing day, the utter incompetence and lack of ability / acumen of its on – off President are becoming manifest. It must break Shri Sharad Pawar’s heart to see how the Congress – NCP ( essentially one ) are being marginalised and crushed in Maharashtra. May the state government do lasting good to India’s premier state.

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