Pawar vs Pawar redux: Did uncle best the nephew again?
Ajit Pawar, a leader of India's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), has denied rumours of splitting from the party, stating that he will remain with the NCP "until his last breath". The NCP's Sharad Pawar, the uncle of Ajit, has been aware of his nephew's alleged parleys with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and outreach to his MLAs, and decided to put these speculations in the public domain to force his hand. However, there is unease in the BJP over an upcoming Supreme Court judgement on the disqualification of 16 Shinde group MLAs, and the party has allegedly begun making backup plans.
While a visibly irked Ajit Pawar conferred with his close aides in his Vidhan Bhavan at Nariman Point minutes before his press briefing where he announced that he was not aligning with the BJP, his uncle and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar was attending a kirtan in Pune.
There was every reason, it turns out, for the senior Pawar to be at peace. For, once again, the restive Ajit had been reigned in. “What’s on your minds is not on ours,” Sharad Pawar told the media in Pune on Tuesday early afternoon, scoffing at speculation about an impending split in his party. Barely two hours later, Ajit Pawar told the media in Mumbai that he would “remain in the NCP until his last breath.”
That a power tussle has been playing out in the NCP for some time now is open secret—in 2019, Ajit Pawar was part of Devendra Fadnavis’s efforts to form a government — but what is also clear is that no one in the NCP wants to openly challenge Sharad Pawar.
Though he has strenuously denied recent speculations about aligning with the BJP, his softening stance towards the BJP has been apparent, especially at public functions. He praised Narendra Modi’s leadership, spoke up for Adani, like his uncle did, and refrained from taking the state government to task on a host of critical issues.
Sources say Sharad Pawar was aware of the parleys between Ajit Pawar and the BJP and also about the outreach to his MLAs. Which is why NCP chief decided to force his hand by putting out these speculations in the public domain, most notably Sanjay Raut’s piece in Saamna on Sunday where he claimed that Pawar told him and Uddhav Thackeray about the BJP’s outreach to his MLAs. On Tuesday, Ajit Pawar slammed Raut, without naming him, for “poking his nose into the affairs of other parties.”
Late in the evening, Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Sanjay Raut said the BJP was conspiring against the MVA with the help of central agencies and he had done no wrong in exposing the BJP. “When attempts were on to split the Shiv Sena, right from Sharad Pawar to Ajit Pawar, all had stood by us. Now, we have decided to stand by the NCP. What is wrong in it? We all are chowkidars (watchmen) of the MVA, want it to survive and get strengthened; and Ajit Pawar is also part of this process,” Raut said, when pointed out that Ajit Pawar slammed him for “poking his nose in the NCP’s affairs”.
Sources say that Sharad Pawar, especially wary after the split in the Shiv Sena last year, has been ensuring a bigger role for his daughter Supriya Sule and Jayant Patil in various party programmes as well as decision-making. Recently when MVA made it more and more apparent that Uddhav Thackeray would be the grouping’s leader, Ajit Pawar began making statements that contradicted Thackeray as well as NCP leaders.
In the BJP meanwhile there is unease over the upcoming Supreme Court judgement on the disqualification of 16 Shinde group MLAs and the party allegedly began making back up plans.
But Ajit Pawar was adamant that he wanted nothing less than the chief minister’s post. NCP sources claim that the BJP leadership refused to assure him of the top position, saying they had committed it to Eknath Shinde until the next assembly elections.
What allegedly made matter even more complicated was that Sharad Pawar’s aides then started dialling party MLAs to say that they should not take any precipitate step else they will have to face the struggle that Shinde’s MLAs are facing after splitting the Shiv Sena.
If Pawar hits the ground, these aides told NCP MLAs, and given the public sympathy for Uddhav Thackeray, the tide could easily turn against the present dispensation in the state in 2024.
This was not dissimilar to what he did in 2019 when Ajit Pawar and a handful of NCP MLAs allied with Devendra Fadnavis.
Then too calls were made and the errant MLAs were brought back into the fold and Ajit Pawar was promised that he would be made deputy CM. This time the effect of the calls was that many MLAs began insisting that Ajit Pawar should get the NCP chief on board about any move to align with the BJP. However, conceded the NCP leader who spoke on the condition that he not be named, “This could just be a cease fire. We are not sure when the battle can resume.”