by Smita Deshmukh and Sanjay Sawant
Even as the Chhagan Bhujbal saga enters the decisive investigation stage, whispers are loud and clear on who is next on the radar of the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government in Maharashtra.
All fingers point out at Ajit Pawar, the controversial nephew of Marathi strongman Sharad Pawar. Pawar Jr, whose name keeps on propping up in the Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam in the state and some who has made life difficult for his uncle for a while now.
The nephew uncle power game seems to be a curse on the politics of a progressive state like Maharashtra. Ambitious, over-zealous nephews are putting top leaders in a spot, creating legal and political battles and in some cases, even putting them in jail. Every family seems to be affected by this — the Mundes, Thackerays, Pawars and now Bhujbals.
The big families are busy fighting their own political, legal and criminal battles thanks to the power struggles between the uncle and nephews. Who needs an outside enemy when the trouble maker is within?! The ambitious nephews are dividing the families, amassing wealth, creating new political identities and some joining the family’s political opponents to settle scores.
Raj Thackeray vs Balasaheb Thackeray: In 2005, Raj Thackeray addressed his supporters and announced his resignation, but said he did not wish to leave the Shiv Sena. He broke his silence after sending a letter to uncle Bal Thackeray objecting to the style of functioning of Uddhav and resigned from all party posts stating that he did not wish to dance to the tune of a 'coterie of petty clerks' around his uncle, who he claimed, didn't understand politics.
Raj had insisted that the Sena chief was like God to him and would continue to remain so. But he opened up a battlefront against his uncle, forcing Balasaheb Thackeray to choose between his son and nephew. Sainiks got confused. Many migrated to Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, a new party Raj formed. The Shiv Sena was challenged within. Raj's charisma and ability to attract thousands to his rallies made Balasaheb restless.
The Thackeray uncle vs nephew had all elements of drama and deceit. While Balasaheb insisted that Raj went out on his own, Raj claimed that he was humiliated beyond to leave and continued to blame Uddhav, splitting the Sena vote.
The cousins did come together for the funeral of the uncle, but the divide is real and complete.
Ajit Pawar vs Sharad Pawar: "If there is no water in the dam, should we urinate into it?" deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar's statement two years ago at a function in Indapur near Pune created a relentless clamour by the opposition for his resignation. Uncle and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar entered the scene to rescue his nephew over the insulting remark on drought. Pawar Jr apologised and Pawar Sr insisted that the matter should end now. But it didn't.
The powerful Sharad Pawar had to bend backwards several times during the tenure of his nephew Ajit Pawar as deputy CM. Here is one example:
"It was good that Ajit Pawar apologised. Political leaders should take precautions while making public comments," Sharad Pawar had said, adding, "Ajit Pawar should choose his language carefully. I duly apologise on the behalf of the deputy CM of Maharashtra for the unwarranted comment that he had made,” stated Sharad Pawar.
Known to be ambitious and arrogant, the state babus have often complained about Ajit Pawar's aggressive style of functioning, often forcing the uncle to intervene and sort out battles. The question on everyone’s mind is whether Ajit Pawar will survive the irrigation scam?
Dhananjay Munde Vs Gopinath Munde: On 2 July, 2013 senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde’s estranged nephew Dhananjay Munde quit the saffron party to join the Sharad Pawar-led NCP. Dhananjay squarely blamed his uncle for sidelining him in the state BJP for the benefit of Munde’s daughter Pankaja Munde-Palwe, who is currently a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council from Parli, the BJP leader’s home town.
“Since the past 20 years, I have been a loyal worker of the BJP. In 1996, I became the president of BJP’s Maharashtra students’ wing (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad). After that, twice, I was the vice president of BJP’s Maharashtra Yuva Morcha and then the president. The party policy has always been that from this post, the person becomes a state general secretary of the parent body. But that did not happen,” complained Dhananjay.
During the 2009 state elections, Munde Sr had announced Dhananjay’s name as the BJP’s candidate for the Parli assembly constituency and even made him work for his election campaign. But just a month before the elections, a decision was taken to nominate Pankaja to fight from Parli.
Dhananjay did remain silent on the issue but things became bad to worse forcing him to leave the party and join NCP. With Gopinath Munde’s demise, Pankaja has carried the legacy and has been politically strong in the state, while elder sister Dr Pritam has held her late father’s seat in the Parliament. It is rumoured that Dhananjay was behind the latest chikki scam against Pankaja, who is the state’s women welfare minister.
Sameer Bhujbal Vs Chhagan Bhujbal: Even as the arrest in a money laundering case has put a question mark over senior Nationalist Congress leader Chhagan Bhujbal’s political future, his party colleagues and former aides say his faith in nephew Sameer may have led to the complete fall of his political career.
“Sameer used to handle everything for Bhujbal, except the political decisions. Nobody questioned him. Bhujbal was dependent on Sameer for everything,” said a former aide. The Enforcement Directorate has described Sameer as the “mastermind” in the money laundering case. He is in the ED custody for almost six weeks.
As Bhujbal shot to prominence in state politics in the 1990s, Sameer became his shadow. When Bhujbal became the deputy chief minister, he entrusted the responsibility of political management and his business to Sameer, and not his son Pankaj. NCP legislators said Sameer’s influence could be felt in Bhujbal’s Mantralaya office, too, during his tenure in the government (as the deputy chief minister or a minister).
“Sameer was not a frequent visitor to the office, but Bhujbal’s one or two personal assistants used to directly coordinate with him. They even had direct access to the senior officers in the department headed by Bhujbal,” said a senior legislator.
Sanjay Sawant is Mumbai bureau chief of Firstpost and Smita Deshmukh is a senior journalist and communications expert based in Mumbai