Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who is not exactly an admirer of Sharad Pawar, has been pleasantly surprised this election season by the devotion and hard work that the latter has been putting into the campaign. Pawar's nephew, Ajit, might still be up to some dirty tricks but the older man is burning both ends of the candle to make sure that the Congress and the NCP get as many seats as possible from Maharashtra. This is the first election in recent memory in which Pawar seems to be playing no games and working towards a victory unfettered by any considerations but, well, victory.
However, Pawar has no choice. He has consistently refused to declare a political heir and has hoped to keep the reins of power in his party firmly in his hands. But suddenly those reins have slipped out of his hands and Pawar has had to face many ignominies this election season - to begin with, his own men have refused to contest the Lok Sabha polls from various seats they thought were not safe and his own supporters have defied him: They have either quit or joined other political parties. Pawar had to return at least one seat to the Congress for fear that his party would lose there miserably (Hatkangale) and now - something that saddens me the most - Pawar has had to descend to threatening his people with dire consequences to make them fall in line. Once upon a time, his capacity to not forgive and destroy the defiant was much feared. Now he has to make a point of it.
There was a time when no one - in either the Congress or the NCP - dared to go against Pawar's wishes for fear of the consequences but now his men are choosing to openly defy him. Pawar has brought this upon himself by the games he has played over the years - if his nephew now knows how to ally with one party and still defeat its candidates, it is only because he has had a good master to learn from over the years.
Not surprisingly, this election is showing up the factions within the NCP, the old guard may still be with the uncle somewhat for lack of options but most of the new bunch are rooting for the nephew, rendering this election almost the last battle for the NCP president: he must win the maximum seats for his party and his ally the Congress against the tide or probably be reduced to a cipher soon after the elections, particularly if the UPA does not return to power after the polls and is forced to sit in the opposition.
This week Pawar faced another ignominy - that of having his party members resign rather than campaign for Congress candidate Nilesh Rane, son of Maharashtra minister Narayan Rane, in Sindhudurg, when Pawar visited the constituency against their wishes.
The Rane family has been attempting to destroy the NCP in the Konkan and the resignations were a protest against Pawar turning a blind eye to the travails of party workers. Once it would not have been theirs to reason why, they would just have had to do or die but obviously the baton has already passed to the next generation and those resignations have not happened without some tacit support from Ajit who is in agreement with the party workers' sentiments.
But then Pawar has only himself to blame for the sorry mess his party is in. He thought he would leave the succession to time, always stating that the next leader would rise from the grassroots. Now the grassroots has decided to strike back and determine that for itself .
Nevertheless Ajit's electoral capabilities are nothing as compared to Pawar. His uncle still remains the sole leader in Maharashtra who has an appeal across various sections and no one knows the state better than him. Now, though, the grassroots must come to his aid for clearly his men will not.