Finally, Battle Lines Are Drawn Between Pawar Uncle And Nephew

Finally, Battle Lines Are Drawn Between Pawar Uncle And Nephew

It now seems that the BJP and Ajit Pawar have jointly decided that it is time to stop pursuing Sharad Pawar and time to tackle him head-on as a political opponent.

Rohit ChandavarkarUpdated: Friday, August 25, 2023, 10:04 PM IST
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NCP supremo Sharad Pawar | File

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has reached a watershed point in Maharashtra. On Monday, one of the senior-most leaders of the party and sitting cabinet minister Dilip Walse-Patil was seen venting out shortcomings in the leadership of Sharad Pawar on a public platform. “We all say that Sharad Pawar is a leader of national stature but unlike many other regional party heads, Sharad Pawar could not have his own party leader as chief minister in the last two decades,” Walse-Patil said. Patil’s comments created turmoil not just within the NCP but even in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance. The comments gave a clear indication that battle lines have been drawn between the Sharad Pawar group and Ajit Pawar group. And the possibility of them coming together at any point in the future now seems very slim. Maharashtra may witness a bitter war of words between the two groups of the NCP, similar to what happened between the Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde groups in the past year. The battle lines are drawn.

A lot of discussion happened in the past two weeks about the secret meeting that took place between Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar in Pune. Sharad Pawar held a press conference the next day and made it clear that there was no question of him getting into any kind of agreement with the BJP-led NDA. A few days later Sharad Pawar was seen targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a huge rally in Beed district. And about a week after that Dilip Walse-Patil targeted Pawar over his capabilities — a clear indication that the Ajit Pawar group has decided to take the senior Pawar head-on. Sensing that he may have used some wrong words, Walse-Patil even issued a video clarification saying he did not mean to insult Sharad Pawar, and extended an apology for the “misunderstanding”. On this NCP's official social media handle issued a statement saying “Patil only issued an apology for the misunderstanding and not for his original statement!” This has now startled Maharashtra’s political community. The way the Ajit Pawar group stressed on the point that Walse-Patil need not feel apologetic, made it very clear that slighting Sharad Pawar publicly was their strategy and part of their internal discussions.

The past six weeks also saw a lot of curiosity generated over why the two Pawar groups were not hostile towards each other the way the two Shiv Sena groups were after Eknath Shinde split from the Uddhav Thackeray-led party. Interestingly, the BJP stayed relatively silent in its criticism of Sharad Pawar on social media and was perhaps adopting a policy of “wait and watch” over the situation in the NCP. It is now becoming clear that the many meetings between the two Pawars in the past month were Ajit’s attempt to convince his uncle about going with the BJP-led NDA. The last meeting happened about 15 days ago in Pune where NCP state president Jayant Patil was present too. But Sharad Pawar made it clear that he would not go with the BJP. Last week Sharad Pawar held a huge rally in Beed district in Marathwada region of the state where he launched a scathing attack against the BJP, giving a clear indication that he will stick with the MVA and had no plans of moving.

It now seems that the BJP and Ajit Pawar have jointly decided that it is time to stop pursuing Sharad Pawar and time to tackle him head-on as a political opponent. A war of words may break out between the two factions regularly in media and social media and leaders from both sides may target each other in their rallies. The NCP clearly is now going to be in a weaker position compared to earlier as Sharad Pawar’s faction without Ajit and Ajit’s faction without his uncle’s support will not be as strong as the previous united party.

Outwardly, it would seem that the biggest gainer in this is going to be the BJP. The BJP will benefit from the situation on the ground where a united NCP posed a challenge to it in the last elections this will be seen in districts like Pune or Kolhapur. However, if one takes an in-depth look, it seems obvious that the Congress party is going to be the bigger beneficiary of the overall situation. The Congress has lost a lot of political ground to Sharad Pawar’s NCP in the past 20-24 years ever since Pawar formed his political outfit which basically consists of the Congress vote bank. The Congress has been trying actively to regain that ground — something that seems possible now with a divided and weakened NCP.

The political picture in the coming months is going to be a little complex, given the fluidity that one has seen in Maharashtra. Leaders switching sides, forming their own groups and some even claiming election symbols of the original party have made things unpredictable. Senior and heavyweight leaders may be doing unprecedented things to maintain their domination, and perhaps unexpected developments may take place.

Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune.

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