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The tales of two Pawars in Maharashtra

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The NCP, a party that Sharad Pawar formed by breaking away from the Indian National Congress in the year1999, began to loosen earlier this year. Some trace it to a curious incident that signalled the rise of Ajit Pawar within the party this April. Pawar was all set to contest the Madha Lok Sabha seat when, strangely, he withdrew his candidature. The veteran leader had made a rule that not more than two people from his clan would contest a Lok Sabha election. The rule was widely taken to mean Pawar and his daughter Supriya Sule would continue to represent the party in Delhi. However, Ajit Pawar’s son Parth insisted on contesting the election from Maval constituency that he eventually lost by 1.5 lakh votes.

Pawar had no choice but to back out. This immediately sent out signals within the party. It was Ajit Pawar and not his uncle who was now calling the shots. Ajit Pawar’s rivals with in the party began exploring other options for their political survival. The first to leave was Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, a powerful Maratha leader from Solapur district who nursed a grudge against Ajit Pawar. Their rivalry dates back to an incident in 2010. The NCP MLAs had elected Mohite-Patil as a legislative party leader. Ajit Pawar would not hear of it. He forced his uncle Sharad Pawar to anoint him as legislative party leader. Mohite-Patil never forgave him. In March this year, the veteran NCP leader quit the party with his son Ranjitsinh, his departure beginning the exodus from the party. A common thread has emerged in the exodus. A majority of defectors had a score to settle with Sharad Pawar’s nephew and heir apparent, Ajit Pawar. The son of Sharad Pawar’s brother Anantrao, Ajit Pawar has represented the Pawar bastion Baramati in the Vidhan Sabha since 1994. He was a cabinet minister in all three Congress-NCP governments between 1999 and 2014.

In the last two years of the government, he became a power centre as Deputy Chief Minister. This is believed to be the time when hubris set in. In 2013, he hit the headlines with his crass statement at a public rally asking whether he should urinate in the dams if there is no water. He is also an accused in the multi crore-irrigation scam that rocked the state five years ago. The Anti-Corruption Bureau has filed a charge sheet against him in this case. In 2019, when NCP regained its strength Ajit was the one who joined BJP and damaged the probabilities of NCP and Shiv-Sena forming the government. He exactly followed the footsteps of his uncle Sharad Pawar. The over ambition of Sharad Pawar, made him an unreliable politician. It has come true with Ajit Pawar.

Sharad Pawar in his career was regarded as a protégé of Yashwantrao Chavan, the most influential politician from Maharashtra at that time. At a young age of 27 in 1967, Pawar was nominated as the candidate for the Baramati constituency of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly over more established members by the undivided Congress Party. He won the election and represented the constituency on and off for decades. In 1969 he joined the Congress(R) faction of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi along with his mentor Yashwantrao Chavan. In the early 1970s, the then chief minister Vasantrao Naik had been in the power for a long time and there was jockeying for succession among different factions of the state Congress party. At that time, looking to the future leadership of the party, Yashwantrao Chavan persuaded Naik to bring Sharad Pawar into his cabinet as state home affairs minister. Pawar continued as home affairs minister in the 1975-77 government of Shankarrao Chavan, who succeeded Naik as the chief minister. In the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress party, under Indira Gandhi, lost power to the Janata Alliance. Taking responsibility for the loss of a large number of seats in Maharashtra, chief minister Shankarrao Chavan resigned shortly afterwards and was replaced by Vasantdada Patil.

Later in the year, the Congress party split, with Pawar’s mentor, Yashwantrao Chavan joining one faction, Congress (U), and Indira Gandhi leading her own faction, Congress (I). Pawar himself joined Congress (U). In the state assembly elections held early in 1978, the two Congress parties ran separately but then formed an alliance to keep power under Vasantdada Patil and deny it to Janata Party which emerged as the biggest single party after the election, but without a majority.

In July 1978, Pawar broke away from the Congress (U) party to form a coalition government with the Janata Party. In the process, at the age of 38, he became the youngest Chief Minister of Maharashtra. This Progressive Democratic Front government was dismissed in February 1980, following Indira Gandhi’s return to power. In the 1980 elections Congress (I) won the majority in the state assembly, and A.R. Antulay took over as Chief Minister. Pawar took over the Presidency of his Indian National Congress (Socialist) (Congress (S)) party in 1983. For the first time, he won the Lok Sabha election from the Baramati parliamentary constituency in 1984. He also won the state assembly election of March 1985 for Baramati and preferred to return to state politics, and resigned his Lok Sabha seat. Congress (S), won 54 seats out of 288 in the state assembly, and Pawar became the leader of the opposition of the PDF coalition, which included the BJP, PWP, and the Janata Party. His return to Congress (I) in 1987 has been cited as a reason for the rise of the Shiv Sena at that time. Pawar had stated at the time, “The need to save the Congress Culture in Maharashtra”, as his reason for returning to Congress.

In June 1988, Prime Minister of India and Congress President Rajiv Gandhi decided to induct then Maharashtra Chief Minister Shankarrao Chavan into his Union Cabinet as Finance Minister and Sharad Pawar was chosen to replace Chavan as Chief Minister. Sharad Pawar had the task of checking the rise of the Shiv Sena in state politics, which was a potential challenge to the dominance of Congress in the state. During the course of the 1991 election campaign, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. There were reports in the media that Pawar’s name was being considered for the prime minister’s post, along with those of P.V. Narasimha Rao and N.D. Tiwari, in the event of a Congress victory. Rao named Pawar as Defence Minister. On  June 26, 1991, Pawar took over that portfolio, and held it until March 1993. Pawar was sworn in as a Chief Minister for his fourth term on March 6, 1993. Almost immediately, Mumbai was rocked by a series of bomb blasts, on March 12 ,1993. Until the Lok Sabha elections of 1996, Sharad Pawar served as the Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly. In the 1996 General elections, Pawar won the Baramati seat in the Lok Sabha and left the state assembly. In 1999, after the 12th Lok Sabha was dissolved and elections to the 13th Lok Sabha were called, Pawar, P. A. Sangma, and Tariq Anwar demanded, in the Congress party working committee (CWC) meeting, that the party needed to propose someone native-born as the prime ministerial candidate and not the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, who had entered party politics and replaced Kesri as Congress president. The party duly expelled the three, and as a response in June 1999, Pawar and Sangma founded the Nationalist Congress Party. The same NCP is now shrinking in size.

(Any suggestions, comments or dispute with regards to this article send us on [email protected])

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for past 16 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazine Beyond The News, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs. Besides journalism, she is also an Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author.
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