Ajit Pawar (51), nephew of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and his heir apparent, has learnt a trick or two from his uncle in his two-decade-long career.
On Wednesday, when news of Ashok Chavan’s resignation came through, Ajit decided he would demand the deputy chief minister’s chair. Having been denied the post in 2004 and 2009, Ajit decided it was time to assert himself.
“Ajit put his foot down, saying he would not compromise this time,” said an NCP source. The nephew had cornered the uncle.
That Prithviraj Chavan, Ashok’s successor, was from Western Maharashtra worked in Ajit’s favour. Ajit was the perfect choice to counter Prithviraj’s political influence. However, Ajit said: “Just because Prithviraj and I are from Western Maharashtra doesn’t mean we will concentrate only on Karad and Baramati. We will develop the entire state.”
In 2009, Ajit was asked to take a backseat by Sharad, who chose Chhagan Bhujbal to be deputy chief minister. Sharad had been told there would be a change of guard after a year or two. In 2004, Sharad had handed over the chief minister’s post to the Congress despite the NCP being the single largest party in the Assembly. Ajit, who harboured chief ministerial ambitions, recently termed this a “mistake”.
Ajit, who joined politics by winning a sugar cooperative election in 1982, has been over the years seen as the de facto head of the state NCP and a parallel power centre.
“How many times can you deny someone who has massive support among party legislators and is seen as next in line?” asked Vinayak Mete, NCP leader.
While Ajit waited in the wings, Sharad inducted his daughter Supriya Sule into politics and got her elected to the Lok Sabha. This had led to speculation over who would lead the party in the future.
That question remains unanswered, but Ajit asserting himself is seen as a signal that the real political heir has taken over.
Known as ‘Dada’ in political circles, Ajit is known as an efficient leader with good administrative and planning acumen. He is, however, short-tempered and often dubbed arrogant by media, rivals and even his followers.
He has an envious support base, which made its presence felt after the 2009 elections. Ajit took most of the decisions on electoral tickets and induction of ministers. The state Cabinet has many young guns from the NCP, who swear loyalty to the younger Pawar, such as Higher and Technical Education Minister Rajesh Tope and Minister of State for Uran Development Bhaskar Jadhav.
On Wednesday, though, Ajit admitted to nerves. “My happiness may not show because I am tense,” he said.