Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar on Saturday declared his daughter Supriya Sule and former Union minister Praful Patel as working presidents of the party, marking a generational shift in the organisation and triggering speculation about sidelining nephew Ajit Pawar, who has displayed rebellious streaks in the past.
Pawar also appointed Sule as the chairperson of the party's Central Election Authority and in-charge of Maharashtra, the only state where the NCP has a formidable electoral presence.
The 82-year-old Maratha strongman and Ajit Pawar himself dismissed suggestions that the latter was upset over the decision.
Sharad Pawar, who made the announcement at a function to celebrate the 24th anniversary of the foundation of the Nationalist Congress Party here, later said Ajit Pawar had mooted the proposal for changes in the party organisation.
"Praful Patel will shoulder the responsibility of the Working President of the Nationalist Congress Party. Supriya Sule will also be the Working President of the party," Pawar said in the presence of senior leaders including Ajit Pawar, Chhagan Bhujbal, Sunil Tatkare, Fouzia Khan, among others.
Ajit Pawar, who had joined hands with the BJP in 2019 and was sworn in as deputy chief minister of Maharashtra in an early morning ceremony with Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister only to quit after 80 hours, appeared visibly upset with the announcement and left the party office here without interacting with the media.
"The suggestion was made by him (Ajit). So, where is the question of him being happy or unhappy," Sharad Pawar told reporters here to questions on Ajit Pawar being upset about Sule's elevation as NCP working president.
Pawar said Ajit already had the responsibility as Leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly.
"Praful Patel and Supriya Sule did not have any such responsibility in the party and were ready to devote time for the party," he said.
Interacting with the media in Mumbai, Ajit Pawar also made light of suggestions that he was unhappy and said that he always favoured new leadership in the party.
"I have always said that I am interested in Maharashtra politics. I even refrain from commenting on national issues," Ajit Pawar told reporters.
"Nobody is checkmating anyone. There is no need for others to interfere in the internal matters of our party," he said to questions about being pushed to a corner in the party.
An elated Patel said he was surprised by Pawar's announcement and would continue to work for the party.
"I have been working alongside Pawar saheb since 1999. So, this is nothing new for me. Of course, I am happy at being elevated as Working President. I will continue to work to increase the footprint of the party," Patel said.
Pawar also made Patel party in-charge of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Goa, and Rajya Sabha.
Sule will be in charge of NCP affairs in Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab, and issues related to women, youth, students and the Lok Sabha.
"I am grateful to NCP President Hon. Pawar Saheb and all the Senior Leaders, party colleagues, party workers and well-wishers of @NCPSpeaks for bestowing this huge responsibility of Working President along with Hon. @praful_patel Bhai.
"To my fellow members of the party, because of whom we have come this far, I will work diligently along with all of you to further strengthen the NCP and we collectively will serve the nation for the larger good of our fellow citizens," Sule said in a tweet.
By making Sule in-charge of Maharashtra, Pawar had effectively made nephew Ajit Pawar report to her on party matters, a move that could lead to unease in the party.
Pawar had formed the NCP on June 10, 1999 along with Tariq Anwar and P A Sangma after they were thrown out of the Congress for raising an issue related to Sonia Gandhi, the then Congress president.
Pawar managed to stick to power by joining hands with the Congress after the 1999 Maharashtra Assembly elections to form the coalition government. Five years later, when the Congress-led UPA came to power, Pawar and Patel became Union ministers and the NCP increased its footprint across several states.
The party, however, has shrunk since 2014, when it lost power both in Maharashtra and at the Centre. The NCP lost its national party status in April after the Election Commission concluded that the party no longer satisfied the condition of state party status in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Manipur.
Last month, Pawar had announced stepping down as NCP chief but took back his decision after fervent remonstrations from the party members as well as other political leaders.
Ajit Pawar in a tweet congratulated the new appointees and said the NCP "will make a valuable contribution to the development of the country and the state. ...every worker and office bearer of the NCP party will work towards this goal. Congratulations again to the newly elected officials!"
Pawar also allocated organisational responsibilities to Sunil Tatkare, Yoganand Shastri, K K Sharma, P P Mohammad Faizal, Narendra Verma, Jitendra Awhad and S R Kohli.