Just as no one is indispensable in politics or in life, the brazenly ambitious Ajit Pawar should realise that the party is bigger than him.This is the message that the former deputy chief minister's shrewd uncle and NCP president Sharad Pawar seems have sent across.
On Thursday, the senior Pawar poured cold water on his nephew’s resignation drama by stating in Delhi that the “issue of resignation is over for the NCP”. With this, the crisis triggered by Ajit Pawar lost more than half of its momentum, even as Pawar was forced to apply his mind to putting out the many fires ignited by his mercurial nephew.
The other fire-fighting steps that the NCP president took were to declare that his party would continue to work with the Congress in Maharashtra. He did not harp on the issue of demanding Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s replacement. And the 19 ministers, who had submitted their resignations to the state party chief to show solidarity with Ajitdada, were directed to return to work.
On Friday, Pawar, along with senior colleague Praful Patel, will meet with NCP legislators in Mumbai to salvage the situation for the party.
As things stand, Chavan has emerged stronger than before. Also, the NCP’s effigy-burning agitation against the chief minister and the immature act of calling the irrigation scam whistleblower, Chief Engineer Vijay Pandhare “mentally unsound” have ended as flop shows.
The resignation drama has all but fizzled out, leaving Ajit Pawar smarting for the moment. He may have realized by now that he finds himself put in his place- something that would be relished by senior NCP leaders such as former deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, RR Patil, Dilip Walse Patil, Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil and Jayant Patil, all of whom were systematically outpaced by Pawar and his factional politics.
In his impatience to become the chief minister of Maharashtra, Ajit Pawar has not only been building his own faction within the NCP, but has also not hesitated from challenging his uncle who wants to protect his party from a vertical split due to personal ambitions. All are aware that his own nephew is the only one in the party who can trigger such a split. The Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray was unable to contain his nephew Raj Thackeray’s political ambitions, and Sharad Pawar stares at a similar possibility given Ajit’s temper tantrums.
There have been at least two occasions when the uncle-nephew relationship was severely strained, like in October 2009 when Ajit made a determined bid to become deputy chief minister for the first time. He had to relent and make way for Chhagan Bhujbal, but not before putting up a show of strength with the support of his young brigade of MLAs within the NCP.
He ensured his way through the second time round a year later, when the Congress replaced Ashok Chavan with Prithviraj Chavan. Pawar used this opportunity to bring the change and Bhujbal was asked to step down to make way for him.
The other occasion was when Ajit showed his defiant streak, rather boldly during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, by refusing to campaign for Congress’s sitting MP Suresh Kalmadi, although the Congress-NCP had a poll alliance. The party cadre was completely confused till Sharad Pawar held a late night meeting in April 2009 and admonished the party workers, directing them to honour his word of supporting to Kalmadi.
In previous years, the senior Pawar would attribute his nephew’s brash behavior and reputation of arrogance to “the passion of young blood”. When asked about this in a televised interview, he advised Ajit to broaden his world view through reading and “refine his speech and dialogue with the people”.
For the NCP president, the Ajit Pawar resignation drama comes at an inopportune time when he has been planning bigger moves at the national level for gains after the 2014 elections.
Extensive corruption in the Maharashtra irrigation sector- controlled by the NCP for more than a decade- is an open secret in the state. It is an embarrassment to Pawar as he is the Union Agriculture minister, and this scam washes away his claims of undertaking efforts to improve the state of Indian agriculture.
The Maharashtra government’s much-awaited white paper on irrigation in the state has also become a tricky affair for both, the Congress and the NCP.
If Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan is to protect his credibility, the white paper cannot but highlight wasteful expenditure, and poor returns from investments in the irrigation sector.
The tricky part for the NCP is to ensure that the party’s ministers are not blamed for the pathetic state of affairs in the irrigation sector. Adding to this headache are the allegations of widespread corruption in the irrigation department by chief engineer Vijay Pandhare and BJP’s alleged complicity in suppressing the scam by activist Anjali Damania.
Ajit was furious that Pandhare’s letter was not shown to him by the CM, but was leaked to the media.
The senior Pawar has been forced to play umpire thanks to his nephew. The NCP is on the back foot and Pawar’s power-politics from here on will be very interesting to watch.