Pawar drama got over as suddenly as the act began. “I cannot disrespect the workers' feelings”, as he summed by his drama to resign as the party president. Has he achieved his goal to rally the party around him to checkmate his nephew Mr Ajit Pawar? For the time being it seems so.
Who better than Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) patriarch Mr Sharad Pawar to master the art of manipulative politics? Who better than him to remain unpredictable and keep his political friends and foes guessing in equal terms? And who better than Mr Pawar to create storms to wither away storms threatening him and his own party?
Mr Pawar’s sudden announcement at the release of second part of his autobiography in Marathi ‘Lok Maze Sangati’ that he is stepping down as NCP president and that he will stay away from contesting election in future created a storm. It happened at a time when the party once again was facing the threat of rebellion, real or perceived, with rumours that to satisfy his chief ministerial ambitions his nephew Mr Ajit Pawar was planning to join hands with BJP once again.
No one will ever know whether this threat was real or enacted. No one will actually know if the Pawar senior enacted a political drama by announcing to step down as NCP chief to checkmate his nephew and let him know who the real leader is. Or is his move intended to raise his graph to carve a new role for himself on the country’s political firmament ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
It is not the first time that Mr Ajit Pawar, though he has denied reports, has threatened to revolt and go with the BJP. He has already done once in November 2022 when in an early morning-coup he along with a group of NCP- MLAs had formed the government becoming Deputy Chief Minister. In the process he had unseated the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP coalition government though his experiment last only for 70 hours before his uncle swung into action and retrieved the situation. No one till date knows whether he did it with or without the support of his uncle.
It is an open secret that the octogenarian Mr Sharad Pawar has neither the age nor health on his side. This has not affected a wee-bit his mental agility to plan fresh political moves and keep everyone guessing. It is for the countrymen to see that the old-wily-fox at his best political play again notwithstanding age or health factors.
Will it deliver the desired results to him? Will it unnerve and disarm his nephew or not or keep the BJP at bay from messing around with him? These are vital questions emanating out of current turmoil facing Maharashtra as after all the Maratha warrior is the pivot of state politics and in turn fulcrum of any attempt at opposition unity before coming general elections.
In this backdrop Mr Sharad Pawar’s any action, despite the fact that practically he is a state level and not even a regional leader with NCP having hardly any impact in other adjoining states of the western region, has to impact politics nationally. This is primarily owing to his stature and capacity to propound new political theories and convince warring political leaders to come together. After all it was due to his guiles that ideologically poles apart Shiv Sena and Congress could come together to form a coalition government. He was mainstay of the coalition government before it was pulled down by BJP through breaking Shiv Sena.
If the reports about Mr Ajit Pawar preparing for another coup were correct, then his uncle has already played the trump card. The party has within no time rallied behind the former Defence Minister expressing confidence in his leadership in the midst of enactment of political dramas.
Mr Ajit Pawar’s statement that his uncle will take few days to think over again keeping in line with the emotions of the party leaders, and workers has proved prophetic.
If Pawar senior had stuck to his decision even if he had acquired a de facto higher position to lord over the fledgling NCP, seemingly he would have achieved his goal even then to tide over the fresh bout of crisis ostensibly being engineered by his nephew and at the same time remain at the helm of affairs. In the backdrop of it is also the war of succession as to who would he anoint his successor- nephew Ajit Pawar or daughter Mrs Supriya Sule who represents the family pocket borough Baramati in Lok Sabha.
Trained by his uncle in the political craft Mr Ajit Pawar, could pose a serious threat to his daughter. Political history beckons that immediate ward is always the preferred successor for any political leader. So, perhaps fortification moves by him to secure position of his daughter.
Still there are many ifs and buts behind Mr Sharad Pawar firing the latest salvo. Has Mr Ajit Pawar planned all his political moves on his own and thereby challenged authority of the Maratha strongman? The authority of political leaders does weaken with passage of time and on account of health factors but it has not happened so far in Mr Sharad Pawar’s case.
There should not be any doubt that he can play a vital role in uniting the opposition against Mr Narendra Modi-led BJP in 2024. And there should not be any doubt that Mr Ajit Pawar is constantly on the BJP’s radar and can prove a handy tool to weaken his uncle and break NCP.
The Sharad Pawar era clearly has not ended and he has the capacity to plot and fight till the end and keep his political rivals and friends guessing and surprising. Although he claimed himself to be a friend and advisor of Prime Minister Mr Modi but the Centre’s move in ordering CBI raids against him did create sourness in relations.
The current round of political upheaval in NCP which manifested in Mr Pawar’s dramatic announcement, cannot be seen as detached from war of succession. But the possibility of him using the Ajit Pawar factor to keep his own stock intact by rallying the party behind him cannot be ruled out. It became evident minutes after he made the announcement.
Mr Ajit Pawar has certainly stirred a hornet’s nest which many perceive posing a direct challenge to his political mentor and uncle. Managing support within the NCP, unless the move has the backing of Pawar senior in line with his political manipulative skills without declaring the target, without his uncle’s backing will be an uphill task.
The current NCP-Maharashtra scenario must be a treat for the BJP strategists to watch. Will Mr Sharad Pawar directly or indirectly play ball with the saffron party in the run up to Lok Sabha elections? Only he knows.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.