The Election Commission of India (ECI) has ruled that Ajit Pawar’s faction is the real Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), dealing a blow to party founder Sharad Pawar ahead of crucial Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha elections. In a decision taken on February 6, the ECI ruled in favour of the faction led by Ajit Pawar in connection with the dispute over the NCP name and symbol. After more than ten hearings spread over more than six months, the ECI gave Ajit Pawar the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) name and symbol. The Commission thus using its powers has provided the Sharad Pawar faction, a one-time option to claim a name to its new political formation and provide three preferences to the Commission. The concession is to be utilised by 3 pm on February 7, 2024.
The decision followed the laid-out tests of maintainability of such a petition which included tests of aims and objectives of the party constitution, test of party constitution and tests of majority both organisational and legislative. The test of majority in the legislative wing found favour in this circumstance of the case, where both groups have found to be working outside the party constitution and the organisational elections. Thus, the occupants of the post were primarily assessed to be appointed by self-nominated members of the electoral college and against the internal party democracy. Serious inconsistencies in terms of timelines in the claim of the Sharad Pawar group, in support of their claim of having organisational majority, resulted in unreliability of their claim.
The dispute arose relating to the NCP name and symbol after Ajit Pawar switched over from the Opposition camp to the ruling Maharashtra side and joined the government along with eight other NCP MLAs in July last year, necessitating the vertical split in the party. The ECI in July last year had also issued a show-cause notice to the NCP group led by Sharad Pawar following a petition filed by the Ajit Pawar faction. The petition claimed that Ajit Pawar should be declared NCP president and should be allotted the party’s symbol as per the provisions of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968.
The Sharad Pawar faction now faces a critical decision. The ECI has provided a one-time option for the faction to form a new political entity and submit three preferences for the upcoming elections to six seats in the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra. To comply with the ECI’s directive, the Sharad Pawar faction must submit their chosen new name for the political formation and provide their preferences for the Rajya Sabha seats by 4pm on February 4. Failure to do so will result in the MLAs aligning with the Sharad Pawar faction being treated as independent for the purpose of Rule 39AA of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. Another option for Sharad Pawar is to move the Supreme Court to challenge the ECI’s ruling.