The undertone to NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s remarks on the latest controversy kicked up by his nephew, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, and the way the latter chose to sit on a fast has set tongues wagging.
Rejecting the Opposition’s demand for his resignation, Ajit had said the decision (on the need for him to resign) would be taken by his party’s MLAs. A couple of days later, senior Pawar insisted that the call on Ajit’s resignation would be taken by the party and not the MLAs. He also gave clear indications that he was expecting everybody to draw curtains on the controversy.
Next day, television channels broke the story of Ajit sitting at late YB Chavan’s memorial in Satara district. Going by the gap in the party, it appears that Ajit did not consult his uncle before undertaking the day-long penance. On the other hand, the absence of prominent NCP leaders (except ministers RR Patil and Ramraje Naik-Nimbalkar both of whom are in the good books of senior Pawar) among those accompanying Ajit while he sat on fast, led to the talk that many of them wanted to avoid drawing the ire of the NCP chief.
So, is there another round of the tussle between the uncle and nephew starting or these are just rumours spread by the opponents of the powerful Pawar clan?
The NCP insiders are not denying that the silent tussle has been going on for quite sometime. In 2004 assembly polls, Pawar allowed Ajit to play a bigger role in the party — right from choosing candidates to election management. NCP won more seats than Congress and Ajit instantly got the number two status in the party. His popularity started growing within the party and he began handling the party’s organisation in the state.
By 2009 assembly elections, he had built a team of his loyalists within the party who convinced him to not repeat the mistake of 2004 when he had chosen not to take up the job of deputy chief minister. In the next couple of years, as the Ajit camp started flexing muscles, the party witnessed growing uneasiness between old guards loyal to Pawar and Ajit loyalists.
Partymen are now wary of the outcome of this tussle in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections that are scheduled to be held in the first half of 2014. Ajit has been trying to minimise the presence of Pawar loyalists at the state level and hence suggested that seniors such as Chhagan Bhujbal, Ganesh Naik, Naik-Nimbalkar should contest Lok Sabha elections.
At the same time, he has zeroed in on more than a dozen legislators from other parties and done groundwork to bring them to the NCP ahead of the next assembly elections. His growing friendship with BJP heavyweight Nitin Gadkari is not hidden. The party circles are also abuzz with talk of his recent closed-door meeting with the head of a fledgling party. Nobody in the party knows whether he has the support of senior Pawar in doing this.
The question doing the rounds in the party is: Will senior Pawar, a seasoned politician, rein in his nephew if the tussle takes a serious turn? Or will the uncle-nephew duo ensure not to stretch the matters too far?