Diwali, India’s biggest religious festival, also happens to be very significant for arguably Maharashtra’s most powerful political family, the Pawars. The Pawars have a tradition of getting together during Diwali in their political bastion of Baramati and connecting with the masses there. This year saw some changes in that tradition. It became very obvious to all observers and even the loyalists of Sharad Pawar that the family for the first time in decades looked politically divided right during the festival!
Diwali at Govind Baug, the most prominent address in the town of Baramati, which is NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s residence, has always been a special social and political event. Thousands of people throng at the residence of the Pawar family to meet and greet all members of the Pawar family who always put up a united front and use the occasion to for a show of strength. This year for the first time some members of the family, such as NCP MLA Rohit Pawar, were totally missing during the four-day event. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar just put up an appearance on one day for one event, stayed away from the Padwa day event, and family patriarch Sharad Pawar sounded slightly bitter talking with media about the political divide in the family on the auspicious day of Diwali Padwa (Tuesday).
Just a couple of days ago Ajit, Sharad Pawar’s nephew and his erstwhile protege, made a trip to New Delhi and met Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Speculation was rife about what this meeting was all about. Though Ajit Pawar’s close associate and NCP leader Sunil Tatkare denied media speculation on the subject, the media reports were very close to the truth about Ajit discussing how he was being cornered by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde in the day-to-day operations of the state government. Ajit Pawar took a wad of files to the closed-door meeting with Amit Shah and reportedly showed him how many of his decisions — especially on fund allocations — were either blocked or rejected by the CM. It is obvious that the cold war between Shinde and Ajit Pawar has only deepened in the past few weeks, and Shinde does not leave one opportunity to block decisions proposed by Ajit Pawar.
What has hurt Ajit Pawar the most is a Government Resolution or GR brought out by CM Shinde which made it mandatory for Ajit Pawar to send his files for approval to Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis before they were sent for approval to CM Shinde. It is relevant to note that one of the main contentions of the 40 MLAs who walked away from Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena and went with Eknath Shinde was that in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, Finance MInister Ajit Pawar was not giving them enough funds and favoured only the MLAs who belonged to the NCP. It is obvious that CM Shinde is now taking all measures to ensure that Ajit Pawar has no real authority and independence to allocate funds!
Speaking on the issue Congress leader and leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Vijay Wadettiwar almost ridiculed Ajit Pawar: “Ajit Pawar had all the powers to control the state finances when he was the finance minister in the MVA government. Why does he look so helpless now? Why does he have to make trips to Delhi? He should be as adamant as he was in our government.” It is known to all that Ajit Pawar has been a headstrong leader in the party and in the government, and that on several occasions, as the finance minister, he even made the chief minister repeatedly request him for allocation of certain funds in the past. But now the tables seem to have turned and Shinde has used all tactics to put Ajit Pawar on the defensive.
The cold war between Shinde and Ajit Pawar has not just given the Opposition an opportunity to take a dig at Ajit Pawar but it has also given them scope to try to cause fissures inside the Ajit camp. Speaking about the current situation, NCP MLA for Sharad Pawar camp and Ajit’s nephew Rohit Pawar said, “All activists and leaders of the party must learn from the experience that Ajitdada has had. The BJP invites leaders from other parties to join them but once they accept the invitation and join them, the BJP ensures that they are reduced to being helpless followers who have no real political power.”
A seemingly helpless Ajit Pawar has taken the matter now to the darbar of the second most powerful leader of the BJP, Amit Shah. Former union minister and NCP leader Praful Patel was also present at the meeting in New Delhi. The question being discussed in political circles is whether Amit Shah really wants to douse the fire that has sparked between DCM Ajit Pawar and CM Shinde, or whether the BJP state and central leadership feels that the tension between the two is actually in their interest. It is very clear that the BJP wants to use Ajit Pawar for two objectives firstly to divide Sharad Pawar's NCP and MVA's strength and secondly for electoral gains in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls but it is also clear that the party does not want to allow too much domination by Ajit Pawar in the present coalition government in Maharashtra. How the BJP top brass decides to take the matter forward will be an interesting "game" to watch!
Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune.