Pune | Amid speculation over his next political move, senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar on Friday said his outfit can stake a claim to the post of Maharashtra's chief minister "now also" instead of waiting for 2024 when Assembly polls are due in the state.
The Leader of Opposition in the Assembly also told an interviewer that he will "100 per cent" like to be chief minister of Maharashtra.
In a free-wheeling interview to the Sakal Media Group at a programme called 'Dilkhulas Dada' in Pune, Pawar said he had heard that Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, before his rebellion against the Shiv Sena leadership in June 2022, was unhappy and something was going in his mind.
Pawar revealed his colleague late R R Patil would have become Chief Minister in 2004 when the NCP had won more Assembly seats than its ally Congress, but a message came from Delhi that his party will get the deputy CM's post.
Asked whether the NCP will stake a claim for the chief minister's post next year when Assembly polls are due in Maharashtra, he remarked, "Why 2024, we are ready to stake a claim for the CM position now also." He, however, did not elaborate on the statement.
During rapid fire round, the MLA from Baramati in Pune district, who has served as deputy CM multiple times, was asked by the interviewer whether he would like to become chief minister. To this, Pawar promptly replied, "Yes, I would 100 per cent like to be (CM)." Asked why the NCP has an attraction for the deputy CM's position as the party has got that post on multiple occasions in the last 20 years, the veteran politician said in 2004, the NCP and the Congress fought Assembly elections in an alliance and the former had won more seats.
"We got 71 seats, while the Congress won 69. Everyone, including the Congress, thought CM would be from the NCP. However, some decisions were taken at the highest level and a message came from Delhi that the NCP will get the deputy chief minister position and the CM post went to Congress," he said.
Pawar said his colleague Patil was chosen as the Leader of the House (Assembly), and he would have become chief minister in 2004 if the top post was given to the NCP.
In the subsequent Assembly polls, the Congress bagged more seats than the NCP and naturally kept the CM's post with itself, he said.
Asked whether he liked working with Congress CM Prithviraj Chavan or Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray, who occupied the top post from November 2019 to June 2022, Pawar said they worked with the latter "happily", but working with the former was out of choice.
On Shinde's revolt and subsequent split in the Shiv Sena, the former deputy CM said they used to hear that Shinde, then his Cabinet colleague in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, was unhappy and sensed something was going in his mind.
"We had alerted Pawar saheb (NCP president Sharad Pawar) and Thackeray was also apprised about it. The BJP had been trying to pull down the MVA government since the first day of its formation.
"The wife of a key politician confessed later that her husband used to go out in disguise, and later some ministers said Shinde and a particular leader used to meet," Pawar said without taking any names.
He said during the MVA government, Thackeray had given full control of Thane district to Shinde, then a Cabinet minister, and some officials appointed by him had helped rebel Shiv Sena MLAs to sneak out of Mumbai and reach Surat on June 20.
Pawar on Friday skipped a meeting of his party's Mumbai unit, raising eyebrows in political circles as speculation about his next political move refuses to die down.
Speaking to reporters in Pune, Pawar played down the buzz saying he was unable to attend the NCP convention as he had to remain present for some other programmes happening at the same time.
He insisted nothing much should be read into this.