The twists and turns in the uncle-nephew saga seem to be unending; in the latest episode, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and his uncle Sharad Pawar went into a hush-hush huddle in Pune at the residence of a businessman close to both. Though subsequently the uncle denied it was a ‘secret’ meeting, it nonetheless added to the buzz about what was brewing in the political corridors.
Trying to demystify the developments, sources in the NCP told FPJ that Ajit Pawar had asked for this meeting to extend an olive branch to the senior Pawar since the former’s rebellion last month.
Some NCP leaders put the development in perspective by saying that Ajit is almost convinced that he may not be able to carry the weight of the entire party edifice on his shoulders, unless he has the uncle’s blessings.
So, apparently, Ajit asked his uncle whether he can allow NCP State President Jayant Patil to join his breakaway group and be part of the state cabinet.
But there was another layer to these talks: Credible sources inside the NCP said Ajit had in fact conveyed the BJP offer to Sharad Pawar that if he goes along with the NDA, his daughter and Baramati MP Supriya Sule will be given a cabinet berth in the central government.
But the senior Pawar refuses to play along. Sources close to the Pawar family, too, indicate that Sharad Pawar is not inclined to accept the offer and continues to insist that he will remain part of the non-BJP opposition formulation.
The other factor at play on the state political stage is the discomfort between Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. Media reports suggest that a "cold war" is brewing between the two leaders. An experienced Ajit is a hands-on minister and needs little help to steer his Finance Department. Result: Both Shinde and Ajit are holding parallel meetings with bureaucrats and almost undermining each other’s authority.
The discomfort between the two leaders reached a crescendo and perforce CM Shinde had to skip a much-hyped highway inauguration near Pune. Shinde announced that he was unwell and instead made a beeline for his hometown in Satara district.
The buzz in political circles, especially the NCP, is that when Ajit formed his breakaway group and aligned with the BJP, he was promised the Chief Minister's position.
Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan too is on record having said, "Ajit Pawar was promised the CM’s post by the BJP but since this has not been done, he is uncomfortable".
Speaking about Saturday’s developments, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, "I have no information about any such meeting or what was discussed." Reacting to the closed-door uncle-nephew meeting, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said, "It is clear that Ajit is uncomfortable in the present government; in fact, nobody, including the chief minister, is happy in the present government".
‘Secret’ meetings between top leaders remind many in political circles of what happened just over a year ago in Maharashtra, when Eknath Shinde suddenly walked away with a group of MLAs, leaving the Uddhav Sena high and dry.
It is obvious that all is not well between top leaders; they are anxious about the future and restless. This could be the beginning of episode of twists and turns and Ajit may be given something big, if sources are to be believed.
The BJP is tight-lipped over these developments, but insiders say the party may spring a surprise in the coming months, if not weeks. The big question is whether the discomfort between Shinde and Pawar will ease. The BJP is likely to play referee and the Centre, too, may exerted some pressure to reconcile the differences.
Meanwhile, Sharad Pawar is set to tour Marathwada from August 17 and will address several rallies starting from one in the Beed district. It is obvious that Maharashtra is set to witness yet another round of political action, starting next week.