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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

Is the sun setting on the Pawar empire?

Of all the political parties in Maharashtra, the NCP is the singular party which needs power to survive, and it is highly doubtful if it will return to government in the upcoming Assembly elections

mumbai Updated: Jun 12, 2019 00:05 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar.(HT FILE)

As the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) celebrated 20 years of its existence last Sunday, I wondered if it would survive beyond the Assembly elections, due within six months in Maharashtra.

Of all the political parties in Maharashtra, the NCP is the singular party which needs power to survive, and it is highly doubtful if it will return to government in the upcoming Assembly elections. For two crucial reasons – there are signs of a split within the family; and they may have completely lost their grip on the sugar co-operatives.

During the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, there were ample signs that all was not well with the Pawar family. Multiple nephews of Sharad Pawar were pushing to be given tickets for themselves or their sons, to contest the elections.

Pawar seemed to be favouring the son of one nephew, which annoyed Ajit Pawar, his one-time favourite. There are shades in this relationship, of what happened more than a decade ago with Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray and his nephew Raj Thackeray.

Like Pawar with nephew Ajit, Thackeray had nurtured Raj over the years. Ultimately though, blood proved thicker than water and he handed his party over to his son Uddhav, side-lining his nephew, which led to a split in the Shiv Sena.

Now, within the Pawar family, Ajit, who got much from his illustrious uncle has felt less favoured ever since his cousin Supriya Sule stepped into active politics. While Pawar was more astute than Thackeray, not to publicly choose between nephew and daughter, it was clear where his affections lay.

However, Ajit could have lived with his uncle’s love for his own daughter – in any case, Pawar had cleverly separated their realms between the Assembly and the Lok Sabha – but when it came to the third generation, he seems to have had a huge problem with his own son’s ambitions being ignored over and above those of his cousin Rajendra’s son, Rohit.

While, during the run-up to the polls, Ajit managed to swing a ticket from his own family-run party for his son, it was clear Sharad Pawar had no part in Parth Pawar’s campaign.

Keep in mind, Parth was handed a difficult constituency (Maval), which the NCP had lost for two consecutive elections.

I wondered how deep the rift within the family might be. Because while Parth worked hard on his campaign, he was not present at the sole public meeting Pawar held in Maval, from where Parth was contesting – a very unusual happenstance by any yardstick.

Now, however, more instances of disagreement between Pawar and Ajit are visible as the former has raised the issue of the alleged manipulation of electronic voting machines (EVM).

While Pawar believes the issue needs examination and has publicly flagged it, Ajit has been quick to knock down that concern, saying that those who lose elections always raise the issue of EVMs, and party workers would be better advised not to look behind but ahead towards winning the Assembly elections.

Such public contradiction of his uncle apart (which did not happen even during the bitter Thackeray wars within the Shiv Sena), I believe while Ajit is right about looking forward, the NCP is headed for a major defeat at the Assembly polls.

For both the Congress and the NCP, the sugar co-operative movement has been their electoral backbone. But while the Congress has been able to win seats from most other regions of Maharashtra, the NCP has always been a party confined to the sugar belt of western Maharashtra. The ruling BJP had mounted a massive assault on these co-operatives, not just in the sugar belt but across the agricultural marketing committees which were controlled by the NCP for the past five years.

At the recent elections, save their own fiefdoms, the NCP lost all. That clearly means the people of the region do not feel obliged to the Pawars or the NCP any longer. During the 2014 Assembly campaign, Ajit Pawar had threatened voters with dire consequences if they did not vote for him or his party. Now clearly, that fear has passed. The NCP is now in a piquant situation wherein it needs to get into power to influence the co-operative movement again; but without that influence over the co-operatives, it simply cannot get back to power again.

The party has come this far piggybacking on the Congress, which may or may not survive this electoral defeat. But while the Congress dynasty continues to be intact, the warring Pawars and their party are clearly looking at the sun setting on their empire.

First Published: Jun 12, 2019 00:04 IST

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