Ajit Pawar’s ‘8 musketeers’, some tainted, who dumped NCP to join Maha govt

Mumbai: High-profile politician Ajit Pawar and eight others on Sunday ‘split’ the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) founded by his uncle Sharad Pawar 25 years ago and walked over to the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government as the second Deputy CM, creating an upheaval in state politics.

Some of them were very close to Sharad Pawar who personally mentored, nurtured and stood by them — a few even faced probes by Central agencies — through thick and thin for decades.

As the party grew, so did these leaders who were given plum positions within the party and in the successive governments — with Congress from 1999 to 2014 and later in the Maha Vikas Aghadi regime of Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena from 2019-2022.

Ajit Pawar was rewarded with the post of Deputy CM four times by Sharad Pawar, and among the others are one Deputy CM, Leaders of Opposition, Speaker, ministers, Cabinet ministers, and national and state-level party office-bearers.

They include Chhagan Bhujbal from Nashik (Yeola), Dilip Walse-Patil from Pune (Ambegaon), Hasan Mushrif from Kolhapur (Kagal), and Dhananjay Munde from Beed (Parli).

The others are: Dharmarao Baba Atram from Gadchiroli (Aheri), Aditi S. Tatkare from Raigad (Shrivardhan), Sanjay Bansode from Latur (Udgir) and Anil Patil from Jalgaon (Amalner).

Though Ajit Pawar’s ‘defection’ did not surprise many given his similar track record of November 2019 when he formed the 80-hour regime with BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, Bhujbal and Walse-Patil were the biggest jolts for the NCP.

A former powerful Shiv Sena leader, Bhujbal (76) was the first prominent leader to rebel against the late Balasaheb Thackeray to join the Congress in 1991. He was made a minister in the state government till 1995, and later as Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council (1996-1999).

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After Sharad Pawar quit the Congress to launch NCP, Bhujbal followed him and was rewarded as Deputy CM (1999-2003) with the home portfolio.

Later, he was named in the multi-crore infamous Telgi fake stamp-paper scam, but emerged unscathed after a probe, and then faced allegations of corruption in the Maharashtra Sadan construction scam for which he was arrested and jailed, and then discharged by a Special ACB court.

Last week, when Ajit Pawar demanded that he should be relieved from the post of LoP, Bhujbal was the first to make a bid for the responsibility, but the political story changed soon afterwards.

Walse-Patil (67) started political career as PA to Sharad Pawar, but later got election tickets and went onto become a minister for many years, capping off with the coveted post of Speaker for five years.

An old associate of Pawar, Mushrif (69) has also been hand-held by Sharad Pawar and given top ministerial and party positions. Recently, he was on the radar of various Central probe agencies.

The nephew of former Union minister late Gopinath Munde, Dhananjay Munde (48) is the cousin of BJP’s Pankaja Munde, and a close friend of Ajit Pawar who weaned him away from the BJP to the NCP, rewarded him with ministerial positions and Leader of Opposition in the upper house. Some time ago, he was targeted in a personal scam, but the issue died down.

A former minister in the MVA government, Aditi Tatkare (35) is the rising youth face of NCP and daughter of MP Sunil Tatkare.

On persistent questions by the media on the ‘tainted’ persons who defected, both Praful Patel and Ajit Pawar hit back that they are only facing allegations, and have not been convicted in any case.

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