Corridors of Pawar rife with rumours of rift

Behind Pawar's decision to not contest is the emergence of two third-generation leaders in his clan, which has fuelled speculation of a schism in the family

Camil Parkhe March 18, 2019 13:39:34 IST
Corridors of  Pawar rife with rumours of rift
  • The emergence of two third-generation leaders in the Pawar clan has fuelled speculation of a schism in the family

  • By refraining from the electoral contest, Sharad Pawar has warded off a succession war, for now

  • The 78-year-old has been Maharashtra chief minister thrice, fought elections 14 times and never tasted defeat

Will he? Won’t he? Looks like he will. No, he won’t. After keeping political friends and rivals as well as the media guessing for days, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has decided not to contest the parliamentary elections. The 78-year-old has been Maharashtra chief minister thrice, fought elections 14 times and never tasted defeat. In 1978, he had engineered a split in the Congress and formed a front with other parties to become the chief minister at 38. He returned to the Congress in 1987 only to leave in 1999 while raising the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin and formed the NCP. The outcome in subsequent  polls in Maharashtra and national elections, however, have forced him to repeatedly ally with the Congress.

Nonetheless, Pawar has succeeded in keeping himself at the centre of Maharashtra politics and relevant on the national stage even when his party has been out of power. This has helped him keep his flock of local leaders together. The question that is often asked is whether his party will retain its present significance after he hangs up his boots.

Corridors of  Pawar rife with rumours of rift

File image of NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Getty Images

Pawar has indicated a green signal for the entry of his grandnephew Parth Pawar into elections. Parth, who seems set to contest from Maval, Pune district, will be a third-generation leader from the family. While the NCP chief is a Rajya Sabha member, his daughter Supriya Sule has inherited his Baramati Lok Sabha seat. The area’s Assembly constituency from where the Maratha strongman was elected a number of times since 1967 was entrusted to his nephew Ajit Pawar when the patriarch moved to national politics. Sharad Pawar’s other nephew Rajendra Pawar’s son Rohit is a member of Pune zilla parishad. He has indicated that he will contest the state polls due in six months.

Sharad Pawar had been effective in warding off any signs of a succession war between Supriya and Ajit, a former deputy chief minister. The emergence of two third-generation leaders in the Pawar clan and the patriarch’s U-turn on his contesting the elections has now fuelled speculation of a schism in the family.

Pawar’s party has been a one-man show. During the 2004 Maharashtra polls, he was diagnosed with a serious illness. He miraculously recovered though age has imposed limitations on his activities. This has also fuelled speculation on who would inherit his political legacy and also the fate of his party after him.  It is now almost certain that the NCP’s mantle will fall on either Ajit or Supriya. Ajit, who is aggressive and has developed his own brand of loyalists, seems to have an edge. He has imbibed many of his uncle’s qualities—he is studious, hard-working, punctual and an able administrator. Supriya, on the other hand, is yet to come out of the shadow of her father.

It is significant that a majority of the Congress leaders in Maharashtra who had deserted the party along with Pawar to form the NCP in 1999 have remained loyal to him. Of the other two party founders, PA Sangma strayed away while Tariq Anwar rejoined the Congress last year. Pawar’s genius lies in maintaining close personal relations even with political arch-rivals, including Bal Thackeray, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A key question is whether Pawar’s successor would be able to achieve this feat, retain the voter’s trust and loyalty of other NCP leaders. Otherwise, the party will disintegrate soon as local leaders will gravitate towards those in power. The Lok Sabha elections and subsequent state polls are crucial for both Pawar and the NCP. When that is over, the rumblings for staking a claim to his political legacy will only grow louder.

(Camil Parkhe is a senior journalist based in Pune)

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