Why the 2019 Maharashtra assembly polls matter to Pawar more than ever | Opinion
These days Sharad Pawar has been underlining one thing emphatically. That he is still young and ready to take on the BJP-Sena in the assembly polls. The message is clear – Pawar does not want the cadre to be demoralized further especially after the series of desertions.
At 79, Pawar, who has been Maharashtra’s chief minister for a record four terms, is fighting a lonely battle with some of his senior-most associates and staunch supporters like Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, Padmasinh Patil and Madhukar Pichad, leaving him.
If the consecutive defeats, one after another since 2014, have reduced his political power in Delhi to an insignificant level, another drubbing in the forthcoming Maharashtra assembly poll may spell an end for his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), for which survival without power is difficult.
The NCP, formed by Pawar in 1999 after rebellion in the Congress, has spent 15 out of 20 years of its existence enjoying power. The party that enjoyed fruits of being in government at various levels – starting from major local bodies, state and centre – is now in uncharted territory.
It was for a brief four-and-half year period between 1995 to 1999, that Pawar and his associates, as a part of the united Congress, were out of power when the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance ruled the state. But Pawar was then in his 50s and the Congress hoped to return to power soon as the mood in the state had changed.
The last five years have been a phase most NCP men were unfamiliar with as the socio-political equations in the state have drastically changed. If the defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, followed by another drubbing in the assembly polls and the 2017 civic polls in 10 municipal corporations in Maharashtra wasn’t enough to dishearten party leaders, the NCP’s bleak future has certainly discouraged many from remaining in the party.
After all, these leaders have been used to being in power in the ruling establishment.
To that effect Pawar was right in his recent interview to a Marathi news channel when he said that “those who deserted the party couldn’t survive without power”.
The second rung of the NCP, mostly those controlling cooperatives and educational institutes, see advantage in being on the ruling side since they not only have to safeguard their own turfs but also safeguard their own future as many of them have been accused of irregularities and are facing cases at various levels. Added to this, are the financial problems facing the cooperative institutes that they have been running.
From cornering a 23 per cent vote share and 58 seats out of 288 in the 1999 Maharashtra assembly polls, the NCP had a good start. However, excessive reliance on one community– the numerically strong Marathas–became a handicap for the party as the community switched its allegiance to the BJP in 2014. As a result, the NCP did not just lose Marathawada, but also western Maharashtra, its stronghold where the Marathas are in large numbers.
Pawar, who is now old yet active on the ground may once have taken pride in grooming the second rank leadership-- the same people-- referred to in the party as “sardars”. However these sardars no longer see any point in staying with him. Under such circumstances, any more defeat may threaten the very survival of the party.