MUMBAI: NCP leader Ajit Pawar’s stern opposition to the Shiv Sena and concern for his own political future appear to have been the driving force behind his attempt to engineer a vertical split in the party.
As the fast-paced developments in Maharashtra's political arena continued to unfold, it became clear that Ajit Pawar was not ready to reconcile. Senior party leaders met him in the evening in an attempt to bring him back to the party fold.
However, he reportedly sent a message to party leaders who had huddled at the Y B centre in South Mumbai. “Support the BJP as I had suggested or be prepared for a vertical split in the party,” read the message sent by the nephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, undoubtedly the strongest leader in the party after the Maratha supremo.
“The party leadership was not paying heed to what I had been saying. That forced me to take the extreme step. I tried my best to convince the party leadership that the kind of government they want would be possible only if the NCP supported the BJP and not the Shiv Sena. There was no way the three-legged alliance could have lasted for long,” Ajit Pawar reportedly told his cousin and Lok Sabha MP from Baramati Supriya Sule after she reached out to Ajit “Dada” (elder brother) in a bid to keep the family intact.
Earlier in the day, Supriya, the daughter of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, appeared very depressed. “Party and family splits”, read her WhatsApp status.
According to sources close to the family, Sharad Pawar initially groomed Ajit Pawar as his political successor. But, after he realised that their styles of politics don’t match, Pawar Sr brought his daughter into politics. That was the beginning of the long-drawn tussle within the family. Ajit Pawar was always against the decision to bring Supriya to politics and was waiting for the right moment to act.
Very recently, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, the power dynamics within the Pawar family came to the fore again. Ajit Pawar wanted his son Parth to contest the election, a move likely aimed at countering the entry of Ajit’s nephew Rohit into politics.
Pawar Sr tried to scuttle Parth’s entry by announcing that it wouldn't be appropriate if three persons from the family contested the polls. After much fretting, Pawar Sr withdrew his own name from the fray. However, Parth lost the election miserably, which many blamed on Pawar Sr’s manoeuvring.
Later, ahead of the assembly elections, the issue of ED cases against the Sharad-Ajit uncle-nephew duo heated up. While the entire party stood up against the ED notice to Sharad Pawar, hardly anyone spoke against the similar notice to Ajit. In a fit of anger, he then tendered his resignation as an MLA and became “unreachable”. He emerged only after his uncle said at a press conference that “Ajit is contemplating retirement from politics.”
While Supriya Sule is well established within the party now, Rohit Pawar has also been elected as an MLA. Apart from these homegrown challenges to his political career, the fear of several ED cases too bothered Ajit Pawar.
Though there were serious allegations, senior party leader Praful Patel didn’t meet the same fate as Ajit Pawar ahead of the assembly polls. The whole party was there to defend Patel. According to a close confidant of Ajit Pawar, after Patel was defended by the party, he realized that in case of political compulsions, he can be made a scapegoat by his uncle just like former Dy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal was during the initial years of the Fadnavis government in the state. It is to avoid this fate that Ajit reportedly chose to ally with the BJP.
Uncle-nephew politics of Maharashtra
In Maharashtra politics, uncle-nephew pairs have always been problematic. While most nephews were nurtured by their uncles, when it came to choosing a successor, it was the sons or daughters who held sway.
The best-known example is that of the Shiv Sena’s Balasaheb Thackeray and current MNS chief Raj Thackeray. The BJP’s Gopinath Munde and Dhananjay Munde is another such pair. During the assembly polls, Jaydutt Kshirsagar and his nephew Sandeep Kshirsagar from Beed also hit the headlines.
Though the tussle between Sharad and Ajit Pawar was concealed from the public eye for a long time, it has finally had an unforgettable impact on Maharashtra politics.