Mumbai: Barely 10 weeks after he quit over the alleged irrigation scam in the state, senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar will return as Maharashtra's deputy chief minister Friday.
Ajit Pawar will be sworn-in 9.30 a.m. Friday by Governor K Sankaranarayanan, a top Raj Bhavan official told reporters.
The nephew of NCP chief and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had suddenly quit the cabinet on 25 September after his name figured in an alleged multi-crore scam.
A top NCP office-bearer said that "the post had been kept vacant for Ajit Pawar" and it was just a matter of time before he re-joined the state cabinet.
"There is no doubt about this, maybe in a day or so, but he will definitely come back to his old post," the office-bearer, requesting anonymity, told IANS.
The move comes just days after Ajit Pawar got a clean chit in the alleged scam and before the winter session of the legislature - expected to be a stormy affair with the irrigation scam expected to figure in a big way - opens in Nagpur next week.
A political storm erupted last week as the state government's much-awaited white paper on the irrigation department was released.
The opposition Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party promptly rechristened it as a "black paper", and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal released his parallel 'black paper' to counter the official one.
The opposition also threatened to disrupt the proceedings of the legislature in the winter session on the issue.
However, the NCP defended Ajit Pawar and demanded that he should reinstated as deputy chief minister, a post he quit following alleged irregularities worth Rs.20,000 crore in irrigation projects during his 1999-2009 tenure.
Ajit Pawar is expected to defend himself, the NCP and the Congress-NCP alliance against the opposition onslaught on the issue.
Besides, the NCP is also planning to deploy Ajit Pawar, a fire-brand speaker in the ensuring Gujarat assembly elections.
Ajit Pawar's abrupt resignation Sep 25 had created a political storm and was quickly followed by all the remaining 19 NCP ministers in the state cabinet also offering to quit, plunging the ruling Democratic Front government in a crisis.
However, they were pacified by the party chief Sharad Pawar, even as intense lobbying started to project Ajit Pawar as the next chief minister.
Days after his resignation, NCP state president Madhukar Pichad had categorically said that Ajit Pawar was being groomed for higher responsibilities.
"We will show what a chief minister should be like... Ajit Pawar will show them," Pichad said.
Party state spokesperson Nawab Malik endorsed the move saying that the entire party wanted Ajit Pawar to play "a commanding role" (of CM) in the state.
However, for that the party would have to win an adequate number of seats in the next Assembly elections, due 2014 to ensure Ajit Pawar can stake claim to the top post, Malik said.
Out of the cabinet, Ajit Pawar spent the past ten weeks intensively touring the state amid bitter acrimony between the two coalition partners.
During the local bodies elections held in the past couple of months, leaders of both Congress and NCP stooped to new lows, calling each other's party as one of "goons, scamsters, criminals, and gangsters" before Sharad Pawar intervened to stop the mutual attacks.