Mumbai | Dropping a bombshell, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar on Tuesday said he is stepping down as chief of the political outfit he founded and helmed since 1999.
Pawar's announcement, which came at an event to release the updated version of his Marathi autobiography, stumped leaders and workers of the 24-year-old party, and many were seen crying and pleading with the Maratha strongman to reconsider his decision.
A meeting of a committee of party leaders -- which Pawar said should decide on the election for his successor -- was held at his residence later, after which top NCP leader Ajit Pawar announced that his uncle will need two to three days to "think over" his decision.
Sharad Pawar's announcement came less than a fortnight after NCP's Lok Sabha member and his daughter Supriya Sule indicated that there will be two political "blasts" (political) in 15 days, one in Delhi and another in Maharashtra.
After Pawar declared he is quitting as NCP chief, district unit office bearers in some places in the state said they were quitting their posts to demand that he reconsider his decision.
Conveying his message to protesting party workers, Ajit Pawar requested NCP functionaries not to resign from their posts against Pawar senior's surprise decision.
"He (Sharad Pawar) has said he has made his decision, but he will need two-three days to think it over on account of your insistence. But he will think it over only when all workers go home," Ajit Pawar told party workers outside the Yashwantrao Chavan Pratishthan where the book release event was held.
Many NCP workers refused to leave the venue even after Sharad Pawar left for his residence after the event.
Earlier at the book event, NCP president Jayant Patil and many party leaders broke down after Pawar announced that he is quitting as party chief. They requested him to withdraw his decision.
Praful Patel said Pawar did not take anyone into confidence before announcing his resignation.
Speaking at the book launch, Pawar said his political journey began on May 1, 1960, and has continued without a break for the past 63 years with him serving Maharashtra and India in various capacities.
“I have three years of Rajya Sabha membership left, during which I will focus on the issues related to Maharashtra and India, with a caveat of not accepting any responsibility (party post). After a long period of public life from May 1, 1960, to May 1, 2023, it is necessary to take a step back. Hence, I have decided to step down as NCP president,” he said.
He recommended that a committee of NCP leaders be formed to decide on the election of the party president.
The committee should have Praful Patel, Sunil Tatkare, K K Sharma, P C Chacko, Ajit Pawar, Jayant Patil, Supriya Sule, Chhagan Bhujbal, Dilip Walse Patil, Anil Deshmukh, Rajesh Tope, Jitendra Awhad, Hasan Mushrif, Dhananjay Munde and Jaydev Gaikwad, Pawar said.
It should also have, as ex-officio members, Fauzia Khan, president of the Nationalist Mahila Congress; Dheeraj Sharma, president, Nationalist Youth Congress; and Sonia Duhan, president, Nationalist Students' Congress, he added.
"I am with you, but not as NCP chief," he told the emotional party workers.
After announcing his decision, Pawar barely spoke in the two hours he was at the venue. He sat quietly, next to his wife Pratibha, surrounded by NCP leaders and workers.
Ajit Pawar said Sharad Pawar had taken the decision to step down on May 1 which is the foundation day of Maharashtra, but deferred it as a rally of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance of the NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena was scheduled on that day.
His decision came at a time when Pawar is seen as one of the leaders who could bring opposition parties together against the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year.
While announcing his decision to quit as party chief, Pawar said he intended to do more in the fields of education, agriculture, cooperation and sports and culture among others and also pay attention to issues related to the youth, students, workers, Dalits, tribals and other weaker sections of society.
A four-time Maharashtra chief minister who also served as Union Defence and Agriculture minister, Pawar was instrumental in stitching together the unlikely coalition of the NCP, Congress and their ideological foe Shiv Sena to form the MVA government after the 2019 Maharashtra Assembly elections.
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said Pawar's decision to step down was NCP's internal matter.
"It is his personal decision....NCP's internal matter. I do not think it will be appropriate to talk about it at this stage. Sharad Pawar is a senior leader and deliberations are going on in his party. It will be appropriate to comment only after the situation gets clear," the BJP leader said.
Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut likened Pawar's resignation to a similar move by Sena founder Bal Thackeray.
"Fed up by dirty Politics and allegations , Shivsena Supremo Balasaheb Thackeray too had resigned as the Shivsena Pramukh. History seems to have repeated itself... But owing to the love of Shivsainiks he had to withdraw his decision... Like Balasaheb , Pawar Saheb too is the soul of the State's politics," Raut tweeted.
Sharad Pawar's former associate and senior Congress leader Tariq Anwar said the Maratha strongman must have a plan for the future.
Anwar, who was a co-founder of the NCP along with Pawar, said the veteran leader does not take any decision without thinking it through.
Anwar told PTI that this is Pawar's personal decision. "What the internal matter is we do not know but, as far as I know Sharad Pawar, he does not take any decision without thinking it through. He is a tall leader and if he has resigned from the post, he would have a plan for the future. It depends on him what is to be done," the Congress general secretary said.
Mumbai | Seeking to pacify party workers protesting against his announcement to step down as NCP chief, Sharad Pawar on Tuesday said he will need two to three days to "think over" his decision.
Conveying his message to protesting party workers, his nephew Ajit Pawar also requested NCP functionaries not to resign from their posts in protest against Pawar senior's surprise decision.
"He (Sharad Pawar) has said he has made his decision, but he will need two-three days to think it over on account of your insistence. But he will think it over only when all workers go home," Ajit told party workers at the premises of the Yashwantrao Chavan Pratishthan here.
Scores of Nationalist Congress Party workers refused to leave the venue, where Pawar earlier in the day announced his decision during the launch of his revised autobiography.
They stayed put even after Pawar left for his residence.