With a formal split in the Nationalist Congress Party, both Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar have embarked on a new journey to strengthen and consolidate their party organisation. However, the paths chosen by the uncle and nephew are at odds and the ride ahead promises to be bumpy.
Sharad Pawar, clarifying that Ajit Pawar did not have his blessing to join the Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra, has resolved to build, revive and rejuvenate the party by promoting young leaders, without compromising on secular and progressive policies but strongly opposing the communal and divisive agenda of the BJP and Modi. He has made it clear that equity, equality, brotherhood and empowerment, as preached by social reformists Mahatma Phule, Dr B R Ambedkar and Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, will be the core of his party ideology.
Ajit Pawar a critique-turned-admirer?
On the other hand, Ajit Pawar, who, until recently, was singing the song of the Shahu-Phule-Ambedkar legacy, will have to jump through various hoops to make his way, given that he has decided to follow Modi’s ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ model. Ajit Pawar, who once used to be critical about Modi’s development model and polarising tactics, has now announced that he will apply Modi’s ‘Vikas’ model for the party’s growth while protecting the interests of the party workers, cross-sections of society and bring in funds from the Centre for a slew of development projects. In his pursuit, Ajit Pawar’s challenge lies in not being a party to the BJP’s hardcore Hindutva, in a bid to maintain the traditional vote bank - especially the Marathas, OBCs, SCs, STs and youth - in particular.
Sharad Pawar seemed unmoved by Ajit's rebellion
The NCP, since its inception, has been targeted by the BJP as being ‘a party of, for and by the Marathas’, with its presence limited to three-and-a-half districts in Maharashtra. Notwithstanding the BJP’s ridicule and criticism, Sharad Pawar and his team made efforts over the years to revamp the NCP, by bringing OBCs, SCs, STs on board and giving them due representation, both in the party organisation and also in electoral politics. On the face of it, Sharad Pawar, has seemed unmoved by his nephew’s rebellion, announcing that he will be the party’s formidable face for revival. He will have to build a new team, having been deserted by practically the entire team he relied on.
In Maharashtra, there are about 32 to 33 per cent of Marathas and OBCs each, 3 per cent Brahmins, more than 11 per cent Muslims, 7 per cent of scheduled tribes while the remainder are SCs and other castes and communities. At a time when the BJP has launched an extensive outreach programme to spread its wings by applying the twin model of ‘vikas’ and Hindutva, Sharad Pawar will have to counter it by playing up core issues such as unemployment, farmer distress, inflation and the division in society along communal and religious lines.
Ajit has to convince public alliance with BJP is beneficiary
Interestingly, Ajit Pawar, who, until recently as the leader of the opposition, flagged issues faced by the common man, farmers and the unemployed, will now have to reach the masses by projecting the Modi government’s nine-year performance and India’s emergence as the third largest economy globally. Besides, he will have to convince people that the NCP’s alliance with the BJP will help get more Central assistance, which will benefit the state and them in general.
On the other hand, Sharad Pawar, who has expressed his resolve to convert a crisis to opportunity, will have to provide a new development model benefiting the common man. He will make every effort to give more representation to women, as he has announced he will support Modi if he were to introduce a 50 per cent quota for women in the state legislatures and Parliament.
He has already announced an extensive tour of Maharashtra to seek justice in the ‘people’s court’, while Ajit Pawar will not only use the organisational back-up but also his position in the government for the party’s growth. Time will tell whether the uncle’s magic works or the nephew’s efforts with the tacit support of ‘MahaShakti’ pays off, in the NCP’s consolidation.
Ajit succeeded in shoring up the numbers
Ajit Pawar, unhappy with his uncle and NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s dilly-dallying over joining hands with the BJP, had succeeded in mobilising the support of the majority of the legislators, MPs and office-bearers this time, by effectively peddling the sentiment that NCP would have Modi’s blessings. Further, Sharad Pawar’s resignation drama and his daughter Supriya Sule’s elevation as the national working president not only hurt Ajit but other veterans and the rank-and-file in the party, as they had expressed reluctance to work under her leadership. This proved to be the trigger for Ajit Pawar, who set about ardently wooing the others and taking the plunge.
Leaders afraid of ;vendetta' politics forced Ajit to take final call
Further, most legislators, including those under the scanner of the income tax, CBI and ED, and those who did not want to be the victims of ‘vendetta’ politics, forced Ajit Pawar to take the final call on ditching Sharad Pawar and aligning with the BJP and the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena. They also argued that it would not be worth wasting their political careers as the BJP was quite likely to win its third consecutive general election, even as the Maha Vikas Aghadi or opposition unity would merely be a farce. They also complained that had they remained in the opposition they would have continued to face police and penal action apart from their projects languishing for lack of development funds, further rendering their fates uncertain.
Moreover, a large number of legislators were critical of Sharad Pawar’s turnaround, especially in not going with the BJP, despite having consented earlier. They were disappointed after Sharad Pawar, who had asked Praful Patel, Ajit Pawar and Jayant Patil to meet the BJP’s high command to close the deal, backtracked and decided to become an active player in the formation of an opposition front against the BJP. That led Ajit Pawar and others to step up their efforts and complete negotiations with the BJP. Ultimately, they succeeded, as on the BJP side, Devendra Fadnavis, in particular, succeeded in getting the consent of the Modi-Shah duo.