The Election Commission of India last week took away the party name and symbol from the founder of the NCP, Sharad Pawar, and handed it over to his nephew Ajit, to settle an ownership tussle within the fragmented party. The EC applied three tests - one on the aims and objectives of the party constitution; two, whether the party constitution was followed; and three, that of majority.
As for the first two tests, both sides weren't in dispute, so they cancelled themselves. In the test of majority among the MLAs, MLCs and MPs, the Ajit faction had a much bigger strength - 51 as against 28 with Pawar senior. The respective clout within the organisational wing couldn’t become a determinant as the party’s 2022 polls were seen as disputed. The Sharad Pawar faction could not establish the point that the NCP’s apex structure was constituted as per the party’s stated constitution - through elections. Almost all posts were filled through nominations by the patriarch, which became a disqualification.
In the end, the ambitious upstart managed to bulldoze his way into capturing the family heirloom, though Sharad Pawar hasn’t framed it in such stark terms. That is the difference between the Baramati powerhouse and Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray. Uddhav went full tilt against Eknath Shinde for engineering a split in the Shiv Sena to snatch the chief ministerial chair, thus wresting control over the organisation. But for reasons best known to him, Pawar sought to send out mixed signals.
It’s not for nothing that people say politics in Maharashtra begins and ends with Pawar. However, it has weakened his standing in the opposition INDIA bloc. Ajit bolted so as to realise his ambition of becoming chief minister, assuming he would quickly step into Shinde’s shoes following a judicial fiat, but that hasn't happened yet.
The EC’s verdict came ahead of the Rajya Sabha polls for seven seats in Maharashtra. Given the numbers at his command, the Ajit faction holds the advantage. The real test for both the Pawars - as also for Uddhav and Shinde - would be the Lok Sabha elections possibly in April-May. People will then decide who is the leader and who is the pretender.
Voters will also convey if they are comfortable with BJP’s Operation Lotus and what they think about the recent incidents of lawlessness in the state. The outcome could as well set off tectonic shifts in the muddled Maharashtra politics we see today.