Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo and veteran politician Sharad Pawar on Tuesday dropped a political bombshell as he announced his decision to step down as party chief, a position he has held for last 24 years. Pawar senior, who's been known for decades for his sharp political acumen and decision-making prowess, took everyone by surprise as usual with his decision, including some of the senior-most leaders of the party and common party workers. Though Sharad Pawar's decision came as a shocker to many, the writing was on the wall for a while now.
Decision amidst speculations of Ajit Pawar going with BJP
For weeks now, political corridors of Maharashtra are abuzz with speculations of former deputy CM Ajit Pawar eying to finally become a CM with the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Ajit Pawar's recent comments on different important issues, contrasting the stand of opposition, only added fuel to the fire. As the Supreme Court's constitutional bench could declare verdict in Sena Vs Sena case anytime now, all political parties are preparing for various scenarios that could unfold. Things could go haywire if the SC upholds disqualification of 16 MLAs who fled with Shinde initially. In that situation, the current BJP-Shinde government would go into minority.
However, Sharad Pawar is experienced enough in politics to know that going with the BJP could prove fatal to the legacy of progressive and liberal politics he has done in his entire life. He has never actively allied with the BJP, except for the outside support he gave to the BJP government in 2014. Many political pundits agree that Sharad Pawar would never actively be a part of an alliance with the BJP, as it will harm the image of secular and progressive leader he has built over his 6-decade long political career.
But what if he's not at the helm of the party? What if it's not him who makes that decision officially? In such scenario, can the NCP go into an alliance with the BJP?
Ajit Pawar looks calm and determined
As Sharad Pawar announced his decision to step down as the chief of the NCP on Tuesday at a ceremony held for the release of the revised edition of his autobiography 'Lok Majhe Sangati' in Mumbai, senior leaders including Maharashtra NCP chief Jayant Patil broke into tears. All the leaders started convincing Pawar while workers present on the occasion started giving slogans requesting him to withdraw his decision. When all of this was transpiring in the Yashwantrao Chavan Centre at Nariman Point, Ajit Pawar looked unmoved and unfazed. And indeed he was. Because he had been informed about Sharad Pawar's decision prior to the announcement.
When party workers asked Ajit Pawar to take the mic and request their 'Saheb' to withdraw his decision, Pawar junior instead gave an earful to the workers and said: "There's no need to become so emotional. This was bound to happen one day."
One of the party workers on stage pleaded with folded hands and asked him [Sharad Pawar] to take back his resignation. The man with folded hands said, "Saheb we don't want any power or anything, we just want you as our chief." Replying to him, furious Ajit Pawar shut him by saying, "Chup baith naa.."
“Pawar Saheb himself had said about the necessity of change in guard a few days back. We should see his decision in the light of his age and health also. Everyone has to take a decision according to time, Pawar Saheb has taken a decision and he won't take it back”, a determined Ajit Pawar told the crowd, as senior leader Praful Patel stood besides Sharad Pawar.
Pawar steps down to let the NCP go with the BJP?
Amid all this chaos, 'sources' inside the NCP have told some journalist who cover the party that it was Ajit Pawar, Praful Patel and Sunil Tatkare who convinced Sharad Pawar to step down from the position. With Ajit Pawar aiming for the CM chair, and Patel and Tatkare being hounded by central agencies, these leaders are reportedly of an opinion that the NCP should join hands with the BJP. Pawar's stepping down as the NCP chief is now being seen as him paving the way for nephew Ajit to become a CM, in case incumbent CM Eknath Shinde is disqualified and the current government goes into minority.
Pawar giving in, or not?
There is nothing black and white with Sharad Pawar's politics though. Many also see this as his ploy to prop-up his daughter Suriya Sule as the main contender to the party chief post if Ajit Pawar rebels once again sensing the opportunity.
All and all, Pawar has done what he has been known for doing for several decades- setting the tone for Maharashtra politics and making it even more interesting. Time will tell if Pawar senior has given in to the demand of his nephew, or 'Saheb' has laid one more trap which political laymen like us are unable to decode.