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Sharad Pawar Has Bought Time

May 04, 2023 17:19 IST
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Soon, it will become clear if he has acted to save his party, checkmate the BJP and show his relevance, observe Sunil Gatade and Venkatesh Kesari.

IMAGE: Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar at an event in Mumbai before quitting his post, May 2, 2023. Photograph: PTI Photo

Old-timers in Maharashtra tell the story with telling effect. It was some 40 years ago.

Supriya was in school; it was a long way before she became Supriya Sule, MP.

The story goes that the Pawar family-owned newspaper, Daily Sakal, interviewed her on her father's birthday.

'My father is unpredictable,' she reportedly said, an innocuous remark, which created a controversy of sorts.

'Even the Maratha strongman's only child fails to understand him,' was the spin by Pawar's critics.

And they were not that wrong. The 82-year-old veteran leader's announcement that he was quitting as NCP chief is the latest surprise which is bound to stir Maharashtra politics and would give food for thought to the who's who in political circles at the national level.

Pawar is preparing for political magic as the Lok Sabha and state assembly elections are due next year and the NCP is not ship shape.

Pawar has several reasons to worry. First and foremost is the fear of the BJP engineering defections from the NCP and Congress.

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and 15 of his MLAs are on tenterhooks ahead of the Supreme Court verdict in the government formation case, which is expected anytime soon.

Speculation is that 16 MLAs belonging to the Shiv Sena faction headed by Shinde could be disqualified.

The way the BJP propped up Shinde and split the Shiv Sena headed by Uddhav Thackeray sent shockwaves in Maharashtra political circles given the fact that the Sena was the BJP'S ally of till a few years AGO.

When the Maha Vikas Aghadi was in power, its leaders used to claim that 'Operation Kamala' -- the name given to the BJP's way of pulling down a government via defections -- was not possible in Maharashtra, little realising that there were other ways to bring down its government.

Pawar does not want to face Uddhav's fate. He almost said so in the book released on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, which speaks of Uddhav lacking political wisdom and daring when Shinde played truant last year.

In the second edition of his autobiography Lok Majhe Sangati, Pawar also seeks to blame Congress dilly-dallying for his nephew Ajit joining hands with the BJP to form a short-lived government.

IMAGE: Sharad Pawar, his wife Pratibha Pawar, nephew Ajit Pawar and other NCP leaders at the launch of Sharad Pawar's memoir Lok Majhe Sangati in Mumbai, May 2, 2023. Photograph: Shashank Parade/PTI Photo

In the past nearly two decades, Pawar's problem has been his ambitious nephew who has occasionally given hints that his uncle had given him short shrift as regards the chief ministership.

Ajit Pawar, the 63-year-old Leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra assembly, said recently that he could become the chief minister before the current term of the assembly expires by October-November 2024.

This led to sharp divisions within the NCP with senior leader Jayant Patil strongly opposed to Ajit Pawar's politics.

At the same time, there is a section in the NCP which has reportedly been pressing for a deal with the BJP, insisting that it could be a win-win opportunity for the party.

The general impression is that Pawar's bombshell is aimed at neutralising those in the party who want to join hands with the BJP.

His game plan is that once the party rallies around him, it would be difficult for anyone to play the splitter.

With his resignation announcement, Sharad Pawar, a former BCCI president, has hit a late cut like Gundappa Vishwanath much to the BJP's consternation in Maharashtra and at the Centre.

IMAGE: NCP workers protest Pawar's resignation at the Y B Chavan centre in Mumbai, May 3, 2023. Photograph: Shashank Parade/PTI Photo

Politics in Maharashtra has been in flux over the past decade. With Narendra Modi's emergence on the national scene, the BJP jumped from the number four to number one spot in the state, but has twice failed to get a majority on its own in the 288-member state assembly.

In 2014, the BJP secured 122 seats, 22 short of the halfway mark; in 2019, it ended up with just 105 seats.

Pawar is the chief architect of the Maha Vikas Aghadi who helped Uddhav Thackeray become chief minister after the 2019 assembly polls that saw foes turning friends as the Congress and Shiv Sena joined hands along with the NCP, which acted as the midwife.

Besides his knack for springing surprises on his detractors, Pawar is also known for his tenacity, for holding his ground against all odds. Despite his age, he is one of the most hardworking politicians in the country.

Chief ministership has remained elusive for Ajit Pawar despite having his growing stature within the NCP.

When in office, he is considered one of the most competent ministers, and even the Opposition praises him for his grasp of issues and quick decision-making.

Dogged by scandals like the irrigation scam, Ajit is not that effective an opposition leader.

His tragedy is that Ajit has failed to come out of his uncle's shadow who rides like a colossus on the Maharashtra scene.

At some point, Pawar has to issue a signal about who his political successor is, but it is unsure whether the NCP, which completes 25 years next year, would then remain unaffected.

IMAGE: NCP leader Praful Patel addresses the media at the Y B Chavan Centre after meeting Sharad Pawar, May 3, 2023. Photograph: Shashank Parade/PTI Photo

When the entire party has rallied behind Sharad Pawar, then all other NCP leaders including Ajit are also rans.

Sharad Pawar's writ runs in his party and others beware of entertaining any doubts is the message of his surprise action.

Pawar is the master of timing. He strikes at a time when it is least expected.

The surprise element of the Mavalas, the soldiers of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, made them a dreaded force so much so that it had forced a frustrated Aurangzeb to personally move to Maharashtra to finish the Marathas.

Instead of finishing them, the Mughal emperor died an exhausted man.

Age is not on Pawar's side, but there is much fight left in the old man. Anyone who knows him even fleetingly would not disagree with this perception.

Time will tell whether his surprise announcement that he was quitting as NCP president is a masterstroke. For the time being, Pawar has bought time.

Soon, it will also become clear whether the Maratha strongman has acted to save his party, checkmate the BJP and show his relevance or for all three reasons.

It is generally believed that there are no changes at the top of a political party during an election year.

The political clock has already started clicking. How will the NCP's 'clock' (its election symbol) keep up with the changing times is to be seen.

Sharad Govind Pawar has made his first move.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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