Sharad Pawar's back where he belongs, on Maharashtra’s centrestage | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Sharad Pawar's back where he belongs, on Maharashtra’s centrestage

Jun 05, 2024 09:06 AM IST

As the results streamed in, Sharad Pawar told the media, “I hope today’s results will prompt many to seriously think what they have done (in the past)

Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra’s perennial power player, fought the 2024 general elections with his back to the wall: last July the Nationalist Congress Party split with most of the top leadership going with Ajit Pawar who also took the party symbol. At 83, he had to rebuild the party from scratch just nine months before elections.

Mumbai, India – June 04, 2024: NCP Chief Sharad Pawar along with party leaders Jayant Patil and Supriya Sule, addresses a press conference, at Silver Oak, in Mumbai, India, on Tuesday, June 04, 2024. (Photo by Bhushan Koyande/HT Photo)
Mumbai, India – June 04, 2024: NCP Chief Sharad Pawar along with party leaders Jayant Patil and Supriya Sule, addresses a press conference, at Silver Oak, in Mumbai, India, on Tuesday, June 04, 2024. (Photo by Bhushan Koyande/HT Photo)

On Tuesday, he staged a big revival with the Nationalist Congress Party (SP) winning 8 seats of the 10 seats it contested including the prestige battle of Baramati. The other seats where the party either won or led were Ahmednagar, Wardha, Dindori, Bhiwandi, Baramati, Shirur, and Madha. The strike rate of 70% immediately sparked speculation in Maharashtra’s political circles about a possible move back to the party fold by the breakaway Ajit Pawar faction.

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As the results streamed in, Sharad Pawar told the media, “I hope today’s results will prompt many to seriously think what they have done (in the past). Those who are prudent will know how people in Maharashtra are thinking,” Tuesday’s outcome, he added, will energise the three constituents of the Maha Vikas Aghadi to fight the Maharashtra assembly elections in November with renewed energy.

The win in eight seats wasn’t easy for Pawar senior and his party. With limited resources, Pawar chose to stake claim on the lowest number of seats his party has ever fought. Once NCP (SP) got 10 seats, Pawar personally identified candidates, blooding young leaders like Nilesh Lanke who defeated political heavyweight Sujay Vikhe in Ahmednagar. In Madha, Pawar engineered defection within the BJP by bringing the powerful Mohite Patils on his side and fielded Dharyasheel Mohite, a member of the family who defeated the BJP’s sitting MP Ranjit Nimbalkar. In Shirur NCP (SP) sitting MP Amol Kolhe refused to switch sides and on Tuesday he won a handsome win for the party.

Political observers say there was tremendous sympathy on the ground for Pawar for the manner in which his party was usurped and also the BJP voters did not care for their party’s alliance with Ajit Pawar who had been earlier criticised by BJP leaders for corruption. Narendra Modi’s comment during campaigning comparing Pawar to a “bhatakti aatma” (lost soul) did not go down well with Maharashtra’s electorate. “Many voters related this with how an elder in their own family might be treated or disregarded,” said Pune-based political analyst Abhay Deshpande.

While Pawar focused on Baramati in the initial phase of campaigning to ensure Supriya Sule’s win—making good with old detractors like Anantrao Thopte and the family of Sambhajirao Kakde—he later went on to address 50 public meetings for the rest of his candidates during a tough campaign in blistering heat. It resulted in the party’s best performance in the last three elections.

Pawar, architect of the unlikely MVA coalition in 2019, where the Shiv Sena allied with the Congress and the NCP for the first time, will now be watched for his role in reaching out to non-INDIA alliance parties for a possible shift of allegiance.

“I have only spoken to Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury so far. There is no truth that I called up any other leader including either Nitish Kumar nor Chandrababu Naidu. Any decision to approach leaders of different parties will be taken by members of INDIA bloc on Wednesday.” But clearly, Tuesday’s results in Maharashtra have brought Sharad Pawar back to where he has long belonged: the centrestage.

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