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Rediff.com  » News » 'Ajit has choked Pawar politically'

'Ajit has choked Pawar politically'

By Aditi Phadnis
February 21, 2024 09:35 IST
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'Pawar is a fighter. He will fight back.'

IMAGE: Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar during the Jyot Nishthechi Mahila Melawa event in Mumbai, February 15, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo
 

With one sentence, the house that Sharad Pawar built with blood, sweat, and tears came down with a crash.

The Election Commission of India order that the 'faction led by the petitioner, Ajit Pawar, is the Nationalist Congress Party and is entitled to use its name and reserved symbol clock', was not unexpected.

"This was going to happen. We already knew this. Today, Ajit has choked Pawar politically. Only Ajit is behind this. The only one who should be embarrassed by this is the ECI. Pawar is a phoenix. He will rise again from the ashes. We still have the power because we have Pawar," NCP leader from the Pawar faction, Jitendra Awhad, told Business Standard.

The Pawar faction has gone to the Supreme Court, and to stay in the game, it has registered itself with a new name.

It will be provisionally called the NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar).

The ECI is yet to allot a symbol: The choice is between the rising sun (

But what it means is that at 83, former Maharashtra chief minister, Union minister, and founder of the NCP, Sharad Pawar, is back to square one.

He formed the NCP in 1999, breaking away from the Congress on the grounds that he could not countenance being in a party that was headed by a person of 'foreign origin'.

Under his leadership, the NCP built up extensive political capital.

Now as he stands amid the ruins of his party, he has two choices: He can fight back, try to reclaim lost political ground and rebuild his organisation; or he can submit to his energetic nephew, throw in his fortunes with the Bharatiya Janata Party, and hope for the best.

"Pawar is a fighter. He will fight back," says Dhaval Kulkarni, author of a book on the Thackeray family and a keen observer of Maharashtra politics.

It is hard to see how.

The ECI based its ruling on the fact that, as the faction with the biggest chunk of MLAs -- 41 of 53 -- the real NCP was the one led by Ajit.

Ajit has been telling NCP members that the doors of his group 'are open to anyone who wants to come'.

And though Pawar loyalists dismiss this, the fact is that over the years, Ajit has been steadily tightening his stranglehold on the organisation.

Even in the family bastion of Baramati, Ajit Pawar's imprimatur is everywhere. The latest evidence of this was the result of the panchayat elections held after the NCP split in July.

The Pawar group did not fight that poll at all, and Ajit's NCP virtually swept the election, winning 30 of the 32 gram panchayats in Baramati taluka.

Although these polls are not fought on party lines, candidates are aligned with one or another political party.

The sole act of defiance was a hoarding near the Baramati municipal council.

The caption, with a photograph of Pawar Senior, read: 'We are with an 80-year-old fighter'.

It was taken down a few hours later, local media reported.

IMAGE: Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, second from left, addresses the media after winning the party symbol at his residence Devgiri in Mumbai, February 7, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Sources close to Sharad Pawar say he has already started scripting his survival strategy, although he is hamstrung by his health.

He is working the phone, calling office-bearers of cooperative bodies in western Maharashtra to pre-empt capture by the Ajit group.

The last week of February could see him hitting the road, holding public meetings and rallies all over Maharashtra.

"One of his loyalists told me public sympathy is with Sharadrao -- even if he holds meetings and says nothing, just stands there with folded hands, people will vote for him," says Kulkarni.

Ashok Dhawale, president of the All India Kisan Sabha, who has been in the field in Maharashtra for more than four decades, agrees.

"Don't write off Pawar. There is sympathy, even anger, among the people against the way the BJP split not just his party but also Uddhav Thackeray's party," says Dhawale.

"People can see that many MLAs who were under Enforcement Directorate have crossed over, hoping the ED lens will disappear once they side with the ruling dispensation."

Dhawale adds that the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, the coalition in which Pawar's NCP is a partner, has held extensive seat-sharing discussions for the Lok Sabha polls.

"We will reach an agreement in a few days. After that, all partners of MVA will start working to defeat the Eknath Shinde-BJP alliance. Pawar won't be alone."

The test of loyalty will lie in the Baramati Lok Sabha constituency, which is currently held by Supriya Sule, Pawar's daughter and the reason her cousin Ajit broke the party.

IMAGE: Sharad Pawar with daughter and party MP Supriya Sule. Photograph: ANI Photo

Last fortnight, Ajit mocked his uncle, saying those who say it is their 'last' election seldom mean what they say.

He counselled voters not to be swayed by emotion and to show practical sense. Pawar hit back. 'Is he wishing for my death?'

But the dilemma is clear.

To show moral victory, Pawar Senior will have to ensure a win in Baramati.

Although between the previous Lok Sabha election and the last, Sule improved her margin of victory in the seat by over 100,000 votes, it was because cousin Ajit was in her corner.

Today, he is not.

He may field his wife, Sunetra, or son, Parth, from the seat. It is not clear whether Pawar will contest the seat or Sule.

Either way, Pawar may be fighting the last battle of his life, both for survival and political relevance.

SPIN FOR LEGACY

The wheel turns as the 83-year-old patriarch places his bets. Whether he gambles on the familiar NCP numbers or rolls the dice, embracing a new chapter, here are some NCP milestones

Inception

Established on June 10, 1999, the Nationalist Congress Party embarked on its political journey

Maharashtra coalition

Entered into a coalition government with the Congress in Maharashtra in October 1999

National party recognition

Gained recognition as a 'national party' by the Election Commission of India, with legislative presence in several states

Multi-state legislative presence

Extending beyond Maharashtra, the NCP over the years expanded its influence, securing a presence in Jharkhand, Goa, Gujarat, Kerala, Nagaland, and Meghalaya legislative assemblies

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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Aditi Phadnis
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