Ajit Pawar was always a little less liked than his more illustrious uncle, Sharad Pawar. He was seen as rude, arrogant and impatient with people, while Pawar senior was clearly recognised as diplomatic and more accommodating of different views.
The greatest evidence of Ajit’s rudeness came some years ago, during a drought crisis in Maharashtra, when he said he would need to urinate in the dams to fulfil the demand for water supply by farmers. During the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, he threatened a whole village from daring to vote against his party candidate and cousin Supriya Sule. They went ahead and voted against the NCP anyway, though Sule still managed to sneak through.
But despite all these issues of political incorrectness, in recent years more and more young people had begun to admire Ajit more than they did his uncle and Pawar was losing much ground with his supporters. This was as true of bureaucrats, both serving and retired, who had interacted with both in Mantralaya, as of young NCP workers who began to gravitate more towards Ajit than his uncle.
Now, that is because, despite his qualities of rudeness and arrogance, Ajit does not experiment with the truth — others prefer him to the older Pawar because he will not play with their sentiments or keep them in the dark about the possibility of sorting out their problems.
One such worker recently told me, “You ask him, he has the courage to say a flat ‘no’ to your face. Rude? Perhaps. But, at least, you know where you stand and do not have to waste much more time and money running around in circles to get his help. Whereas Pawar saheb may never say a flat ‘no’ to your face. But he will keep you dancing around in the belief he is working on your issues, when he knew right from the start that it was impossible to sort it out. One would rather go for the shock treatment than the soft let-down.’’
It is no wonder then that Ajit still has his band of loyal supporters — and bureaucrats. A few months ago, when Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had publicly complained about a majority of bureaucrats failing to co-operate with his administration, I was told by someone in confidence that Fadnavis was letting these officers know he knew who they were consulting before implementing his government’s polices. And I don’t think I was surprised.
For much before Ajit became their favourite, many bureaucrats were similarly pining for the return of Sharad Pawar for his decisive ways and clear-cut understanding of issues rather than having to deal with leaders who were always looking over their shoulders or worrying about how many toes they might be stepping on. Slowly they began to gravitate towards Ajit, despite his obvious drawbacks and lack of diplomacy. But now the stark differences between uncle and nephew stand out with a single statement last week by the younger man.
In the wake of the huge Maratha morchas making their way across Maharashtra towards the state capital, there is much speculation about who and exactly what is driving this agitation. While there are many contentions about the what, the general consensus about the who is that the NCP and Sharad Pawar are making their best effort to win back the Maratha vote bank they lost in the wake of the 2014 elections. Yet Pawar, who as chief minister of Maharashtra in the late 1980s, in the wake of the Mandal commission recommendations had turned down the Maratha demand to include them as OBCs on the ground that they were mostly wealthy and not socially backward, has now been less clear about his views on the issue. While the Congress and the NCP were ruling Maharashtra, he subtly encouraged the demand for Maratha reservations but never allowed the agitations to get as big as they have become now. And even today he has not taken a clear stand on which side he is on.
Ajit, on the contrary, was unambiguous when he said, “They are demanding reservations now, but when it comes to matters of marriages and forging relationships, they want to declare themselves as upper class. Then reservations are pushed towards the sidelines.’’
That is a statement not likely to make him very popular with his uncle. But it is also a statement that shows his courage of conviction and complete lack of the political skulduggery of our times.