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What Led Ajit Pawar To Ditch Uncle?

July 02, 2023 14:54 IST

With reports surfacing of differences between Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis, Fadnavis was out seeking new allies.
A disgruntled Ajit Pawar was easy to persuade.

IMAGE: Nationalist Congress Party Maharashtra President Jayant Patil, right, interacts with Ajit Pawar during the party's OBC wing meeting in Nagpur, June 3, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

'At the national level, I will report to Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel. In the state, I will report to Ajit Pawar, Chhagan Bhujbal, and Jayant Patil,' Supriya Sule, the new working president of the Nationalist Congress Party, was quoted as saying in last month.

So many bosses!

In a way, that tells its own story.

In May this year, Pawar announced almost casually that he was stepping down from the presidency of the party he had founded in 1999 and would contest no more elections.

He also set up a committee to decide on the succession. That report was submitted a few days ago.

The result? No party position for nephew Ajit, who has run things in the NCP in Maharashtra for some time now, although he continued to be Leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra assembly -- a position he acquired after some struggle.

Among Sule's bosses is Patil, whom the party sees as an alternative pole of power to Ajit.

When the Uddhav Thackeray government fell, the Shiv Sena split, and the Eknath Shinde Shiv Sena faction formed the government with the BJP.

It was not Patil who was named Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly but Ajit.

Patil had already staked claim to the position and, as party president of the Maharashtra unit, was required to write a letter to the Speaker.

When he was told it was Ajit who would be occupying the post, he simply sat on the letter; it took two calls from Patel to get him to issue it.

For those following Maharashtra politics, this was the very public ramification of an internal power tussle.

Ajit has been deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, but believes he hasn't gotten his due.

Pawar assured Ajit that he would secure the position of deputy CM for him under a Uddhav Thackeray-led government.

But Ajit thought he could outdo his uncle in the deal-making department, and after the assembly elections, he went to the Bharatiya Janata Party with an offer they could not refuse.

The action suggested that MLAs in the party were with him.

But he could not cobble up the requisite numbers, and the move failed, with him returning to the party. That showed he was a man in a hurry.

Speaking at Baramati some time ago, it was Pawar who best described his nephew. Ajit, by nature, is different,' the senior Pawar said.

'He is someone who loves to work on the ground and is result-oriented. He is not media-friendly and is not bothered by publicity. He is working for the party and the state. But there are misconceptions about him,' he said.

The latest events suggest otherwise.

IMAGE: Nationalist Congress Party leader Chhagan Bhujbal, left, speaks as Sharad Pawar, his wife Pratibha Pawar, nephew Ajit Pawar and other NCP leaders listen after Sharad Pawar announced his decision to step down as NCP president at the Y B Chavan auditorium in Mumbai, May 2, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Already, banners have appeared all over Mumbai declaring Ajit as the new CM.

With reports surfacing of differences between CM Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis, the parting of ways between the two parties cannot be ruled out.

Fadnavis will be out in the market seeking new allies. A disgruntled Ajit might be easy to persuade.

Although Pawar is propelling the party in the direction of the Opposition, there is nothing to suggest he would not assent to this plan.

Books have been written about a call Fadnavis made to Pawar to seal Ajit's defection.

Talks appeared to be at such an advanced stage that the NCP and the BJP discussed not just portfolios but even guardian ministers once they'd helped each other form the government.

A conversation between Pawar and Prime Minister Narendra D Modi on this issue has also been described in the books.

As many as 40 MLAs of the 53-member NCP in the Maharashtra assembly were reportedly ready to jump ship.

If it could happen once, it can happen again.

Ajit has been quite critical of the Congress leadership's attitude towards the PM.

The last time he spoke out was when Mallikarjun Kharge described Modi and others as 'venomous snakes' during the Karnataka election campaign.

'Today Modi is our PM. Before that, there was Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It does not feel right to make such a statement about the PM of the country or the CM of the state,' he said at the time.

In a sense, he was reflecting the commonly held but rarely expressed view in the Opposition that attacks on the PM can be politically counterproductive.

In the politics of the NCP, the person to watch in the future might not be cousin and Working President Supriya Sule, but Ajit Pawar.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

Aditi Phadnis
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