Ajit Pawar is the amongst the tallest leaders in Maharashtra today. He is the Leader of Opposition, three-times Deputy Chief Minister and till last week, was considered as the second-in-command in the Nationalist Congress Party.
The NCP, since its inception, has seen only one president—Sharad Pawar. That said, everyone in the party in the last one decade saw Ajit Pawar as the strongest claimant to inherit the post from Pawar senior.
Though Sharad Pawar is still the party president, he handed the second-most important position of the Working President, Chairman and head of several bodies within the party to his daughter, Supriya Sule (and long time party colleague, Praful Patel).
The same Supriya Sule, who, during the resignation drama of Sharad Pawar sat afar, and was even stopped from speaking by none other than Ajit.
Most observers of Maharashtra politics were sure that Sharad Pawar will take back his resignation, which he ultimately did. It was also speculated that Ajit Pawar will be elevated. That was not to happen though and Ajit met the same fate as that of Raj Thackeray.
Raj, till the appointment of Uddhav Thackeray as Shiv Sena’s executive president, was seen as the ultimate heir-apparent to Balasaheb Thackeray. But Raj, just like Ajit, was present in the same hall where Uddhav was given the position that he desired.
Raj then left the Shiv Sena to form to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which even managed to taste electoral success initially, only to be reduced to a one-MLA party now.
Why is Raj’s history important for this piece?
It is because Raj, like Ajit, was seen as a man with an eye for spotting potential leaders from the local cadres. He would groom them, and was also considered as the administrative engine of the party. Raj was also credited with the backstage management of some of the most successful rallies of Balasaheb Thackeray.
Similarly Ajit, is today considered as a leader with a clout as good as that of Sharad Pawar in the party. Apart from that, Ajit is the one who is said to hold sway over majority of the NCP MLAs too.
Yet, he was sidelined.
Sharad Pawar had his way with the party leadership, while Ajit Pawar could only play with a bottle, sitting on the stage when the announcement of Supriya’s elevation was made.
Why Supriya over Ajit?
There are several answers to this question.
The first is the obvious one. Supriya is the daughter and the only child of Sharad Pawar. Ajit is a nephew.
Secondly, Ajit’s perceived proximity to the BJP and especially his friendship with Devendra Fadnavis.
The early morning swearing-in ceremony in November 2019 has left a permanent mark on Ajit.
Senior Pawar is right now eyeing to be the topmost leader of the opposition. With the elevation of Ajit, he could have send out a signal that many opposition leaders in the country would not find favourable at the moment.
On the other hand, Sule's opposition to the BJP is not in doubt, and her statements in favour of minority community have given her the credentials needed to be part of the current opposition.
One thing is clear from the above. Pawar senior, at least for now, is serious about the opposition unity and doesn’t want to spoil it.
What is left for Ajit?
Ajit Pawar still holds the position of the Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra assembly. Technically speaking, he is the only person with a constitutional post in the party. So charges that he has been sidelined will not stick that easily. But yes, he has been shown the place in the party hierarchy.
But does Sule enjoy more of a clout when it comes to party’s administration?
If the contest is only between Ajit and Supriya today, most MLAs will side with Ajit. But till the time Sharad Pawar is there Ajit likely won’t do anything that senior Pawar doesn’t endorse.
Also Ajit knows that he cannot leave NCP right now. Even though most MLAs are with him, a call from senior Pawar to many of them can spoil his plans.
For Ajit Pawar, all he can do now is wait; wait for the situation to turn in his favour and then act.
The BJP leadership in Maharashtra is aware about Ajit’s compulsion, and they have burnt their fingers once by siding with Ajit, only to see him going back to Pawar senior, leaving the BJP in a lurch.
Like Pawar senior, Ajit wants his son Parth’s political career to be stable. Parth lost the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Ajit hasn’t been able to get him back in mainstream politics since.
Ajit Pawar has a lot at stake and even though he may be unhappy with the current turn of events, he would know well that his options at the moment are limited.
Senior leaders in the state know that nothing major will happen in the near future: neither is Ajit leaving NCP nor is BJP is abandoning Eknath Shinde.
If Ajit Pawar is the proverbial phoenix, this is the part where the bird is extinguished into a heap of ash. Now to wait for it to rise again.
Varun Singh, is a Mumbai-based journalist and tracks politics and other important news from the western region of the country. Varun has spent close to 18 years in journalism.
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