- Ajit Pawar took oath along with BJP's Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday
- He gave no hint of switch at Sena-NCP-Congress meet on Friday night
- He is accused in an irrigation scam and a bank embezzlement case
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar, repeatedly criticised by the BJP for alleged corruption, helped the party retain power in Maharashtra and was sworn in as deputy to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in a quiet oath ceremony on Saturday morning.
Ajit Pawar's move split the NCP as well as the Pawar family, with his uncle Sharad Pawar alleging that he may have misused letters of support collected from party MLAs for the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance. He has been removed as leader of the NCP legislature party but Sharad Pawar says there is no decision on his expulsion.
The younger Pawar had given away no hint of the switch, even when he attended Sena-NCP-Congress meeting on Friday night. The Sena's Sanjay Raut said he had noticed something amiss in Mr Pawar's body language - he was not looking him in the eye - and he pointed out that he had gone AWOL during the night, his phone unreachable.
Sources say Ajit Pawar, widely seen as Sharad Pawar's political heir, may have broken ranks to buy his own safety against prosecution. Accused in an irrigation scam and a bank embezzlement case, Ajit Pawar had reportedly been in touch with Devendra Fadnavis for days.
Sources say Ajit Pawar, the deputy chief of NCP, was worried that his uncle may, at some point in the future, ditch him in favour of his daughter Supriya Sule. The cousins have not been getting along.
Dhananjay Munde, another NCP leader missing from Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray's press conference after the Maharashtra coup, is believed to have collaborated with Ajit Pawar.
Ajit Pawar was forced to resign as Deputy Chief Minister in the Congress-NCP government in 2014 over allegations that he was involved in the Rs 70,000-crore irrigation scam.
Later that year, Devendra Fadnavis, after taking power, sanctioned an anti-corruption investigation against Ajit Pawar.
Before the Maharashtra election, in September, the Enforcement Directorate filed a chargesheet naming both Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar in a cooperative bank scam. They were accused of money laundering.
Ajit Pawar had surprised his party even then by suddenly quitting as MLA. He claimed he had done so because he "did not want his uncle to be defamed".
Ajit Pawar was also under pressure over what he believed was his diminishing status in the NCP. Apart from his cold war with Supriya Sule, his son Parth had lost in the national election earlier this year.
He was also in the news when Rs 5 lakh was seized from a car in his convoy at the height of the Maharashtra campaign.
"Before the Maharashtra election, the BJP had said Ajit Pawar would be thrown into (Mumbai's) Arthur Road jail over the irrigation scam. After the election, he has been led to the mantralaya (government headquarters)," said Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.
Sharad Pawar said his nephew had gone rogue and said that he had taken a "personal decision" not supported by the party.