Mumbai, May 2: Dropping an unexpected political bomb, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) President Sharad Pawar announced that he was stepping down as party chief, here on Tuesday.
The sudden announcement was greeted with shock, disbelief, bursting into tears and hundreds protesting at Pawar's move, demanding that he withdraw it.
However, Pawar, flanked by his wife Pratibha, appeared to be grimly determined and declared: "I know when to stop... I have set up a committee of senior NCP leaders who will decide on the next president."
Senior leaders like Ajit Pawar, state party chief Jayant Patil and others attempted to pacify the party workers and the lower rung leaders, and urged them to remain calm.
Pawar, 82, made the announcement of his retirement during the release of his autobiography, 'Lok Majhe Sangaayi - Political Autobiography'.
However, the Rajya Sabha member said he had three more years to go in Parliament, and assured that he would remain active in public life through social-politics, as in the past over 55 years.
Tracing his long political journey, Pawar said that it was on May 1, 1960, when Maharashtra was formed under the leadership of Yashwantrao Chavan, and the same day, that he joined the Pune City Youth Congress, as an active party worker.
In due course, he got a lot of responsibilities with the Maharashtra Youth Congress, he shifted from Pune to Mumbai, came in contact with youth organisations and leaders across the state.
At one point, the Indian National Youth Congress selected a group of young leaders for the World Assembly of Youth scholarship to study on "How a new generation of leadership is created in other countries and what action program is planned for it", travelling to the US, Japan, Canada, Denmark and interact with leaders and organisations there.
In 1966, the Indian general elections were announced, so he cut short his foreign tour halfway to join the process of selecting the Lok Sabha and Assembly candidates for the Congress, when senior leaders insisted that young blood should also be fielded in the elections.
"At the insistence of Yashwantrao Chavan, at the age of 27, I was selected as a candidate for the Baramati Assembly constituency, and contesting against me was an influential figure in the cooperative movement..." said Pawar, who would later be a four-time CM.
Due to his long association with the State Youth Congress, and his huge network of a large number of workers and leaders who organised his maiden poll campaign, he was elected with a considerable margin.
He was also elected as Secretary of the Congress Legislative Party for his interest in legislation work that was appreciated by the party.
He paid a lot of attention to the work in the Assembly, and with the encouragement of the then CM Vasantrao Naik, he continued as an active young lawmaker, and then was re-elected in 1972 with a higher margin to be named as the Minister of State for GAD and Home Affairs.
Over the past 56 years, he recalled his services as MLA, MLC, MP in both Houses of Parliament, Minister in the state and Centre, a four-time CM, Defence and Agriculture Minister, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and other responsibilities.
After quitting the Congress to form the NCP in 1999, he continued to serve as its President for an incredible 24 years of his 63-year-long political career.
"I have three years left of Rajya Sabha, during which I will focus on issues related to Maharashtra and India, with a caveat of not taking any responsibility... After a long period of public life from May 1, 1960, to May 1, 2023, it is necessary to take a step back," said Pawar.
Nevertheless, he said he would do a lot more in the field of education, agriculture, cooperation, sports and culture, amongst others, issues related to the youth, students, workers, Dalits, Tribals and other weaker sections of the society.
Pawar is involved with several organisations in which over 4.50 lakh students study, like the Rayat Shikshan Sansthan (Satara); Vidya Pratishthan (Baramati); Maratha Mandir (Mumbai); Mahatma Gandhi Sarvodaya Sangh (Urali Kanchan, Pune); Shivnagar Vidya Prasarak Mandal (Baramati); and Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Shikshan Parishad (Pune).
He also plans to devote time to the Nehru Centre, Mumbai, which promotes activities in the field of Science; the Yashwantrao Chavan Pratishthan, which focuses on various issues of Maharashtra; Mumbai Marathi Granth Sangrahalaya Sansthan, which promotes Reading, Culture, and Preservation of Books.
"I am in-charge of many organisations like the Vasantdada Sugar Institute, which is doing research and expansion work in the sugarcane and sugar factories, I will pay more attention to this work from now on," he said.
"I cannot forget that Maharashtra and all of you have given me strong support and love in the last six decades. It's time for a new generation to guide the party and the direction it intends to take. I am recommending that a committee of NCP members should be formed to decide on the election of the vacancy in the president's post," said Pawar in a tone of finality.