Ajit Pawar, the proverbial Trojan Horse
A few weeks before he passed away, former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had warned me that it would not be long before Ajit Pawar broke from his uncle Sharad Pawar and struck out on his own. “Today he has more resources than his uncle and he has carefully built up support among party MLAs who, at a pinch, will opt for him rather than Sharad Pawar.”
Then he added after a few seconds of thought. “But that is only if they can be sure they will not lose their seats in the event of a split. There Ajit is still lagging behind his uncle who even today has a better connect with the grassroots than he will ever have.”
That was in 2012, when there was a Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government in Maharashtra and Ajit was already chafing at the bit. Reports of his alleged involvement in the irrigation scam were filtering out and even then there was a near rebellion in the NCP, which Sharad Pawar had managed to contain in the nick of time.
It took seven more years for Deshmukh’s prediction to come true – “The cause of the NCP’S downfall will be none other than Ajit,” he had said, though he could not have foreseen the events of the past month where Ajit proved to be the proverbial Trojan Horse, not just to his party but also to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis who is sore at the loss of face brought about by his 80-hour second stint in the chief minister’s office (CMO), has now revealed that it was not the BJP that made the bid for government, but Ajit who approached him with the promise of support. If that is true, I marvel at both Fadnavis’ gullibility in falling for the trick and Deshmukh’s ability to spot the political character of his former cabinet minister years in advance of the event. “Ajit wants to break free of his uncle at any cost and he wants to be the chief minister. I will not put it past him if he even breaks the Shiv Sena or BJP to attain that goal,” he had said.
It seemed like an impossible and fantastic theory at the time – a saffron and a secular party allying with each other in a grab for power to satisfy one man’s ambition. But I get goose bumps thinking how right Deshmukh was even if the events unfolded slightly differently from how he had foreseen it.
But now it is also clear there really is a serious conflict between Ajit and his more illustrious uncle. At first, many of us were convinced that Sharad Pawar’s Machiavellian manipulative tendencies were behind Ajit’s rebellion. But it becomes increasingly obvious that Pawar really had had to make a Herculean effort to contain his overambitious nephew. And it is not quite over as yet. The tussle continues as Ajit is said to be pressurising his uncle to reinstate him as the deputy chief minister in the new government, while Pawar is rooting for Jayant Patil for that job. There is a genuine fear that should Ajit be made the deputy chief minister, he would try to dominate Uddhav Thackeray and take advantage of his inexperience in electoral office to become the de facto chief minister of Maharashtra. After all, Ajit has attempted that once before during Prithviraj Chavan’s term as the chief minister, seeking report cards from even Congress ministers and trying to impress upon them that Chavan, as a first time CM, was less capable than him and that he was the real driving force of the government. Chavan, however, asked his ministers to simply pay Ajit no heed and that was the root cause of the latter’s continuing dislike for the former chief minister.
So the older Pawar is now between the horns of a very serious dilemma – accommodating Ajit invites the risk of him running away with the government which really has no one who might be able to resist his bullying. Keeping him out entails the risk of tempting him to try and split the party again. The BJP, too, might not be secure against Ajit’s ambitions considering there are those in their ranks who recently quit the NCP in their own self-interest, but still owe the Pawars. They could emerge as a fifth column in the party, which is already facing unrest and possible revolt among its own loyalists.
They must all now keep their eyes sternly on Ajit Pawar. He is not quite done as yet.