Is Ajit Pawar Losing The Fight Against Sharad Pawar’s NCP?

Krishna Dange

Jun 20, 2024, 06:21 PM | Updated 10:17 PM IST

Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar
Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar
  • Ajit Pawar's challenges include preventing desertions and defending the Baramati assembly segment.
  • All eyes were on the verdict from the Baramati Lok Sabha constituency in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra . 

    Here, for the first time in the region’s political history, two members of the politically influential Pawar family were pitted against each other in an electoral fight. 

    The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar had fielded the party chief’s wife Sunetra Pawar against the NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) candidate Supriya Sule. The latter being a cousin of Ajit Pawar and the daughter of Sharad Pawar.

    On the results day, not only did the newly formed NCP-SP record the highest strike rate across both coalitions by winning eight out of ten Lok Sabha seats, Sule – the party’s candidate in Baramati, retained the seat for the fourth time by a margin of more than 1.50 lakh votes.

    Notably, apart from Baramati, the two rival NCPs were also in a direct fight over the Shirur Lok Sabha seat. Here as well, it was the NCP (SP) candidate and the sitting MP Amol Kolhe who not only won the seat but also bettered his winning margin from 58,483 in 2019 to 1.40 lakh votes in the 2024 polls. 

    Among the constituent parties of the two coalitions that fought against each other, the worst performer of all was Ajit Pawar-led NCP on the BJP-led Mahayuti’s side, winning just one out of four seats it had contested. 

    Sunetra Pawar’s defeat in Baramati is particularly said to have hit Ajit Pawar hard since this was the second time his immediate family member had lost an election, the first to lose being his son Parth Pawar, who was defeated in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Maval by the then undivided Shiv Sena’s Shrirang Barne.

    If the recent drubbing received by his party wasn’t enough, Ajit Pawar, affectionately referred as dada by his loyalists, is now posed with challenges on all fronts.

    While the leader has to now deal with his diminishing clout within the BJP-led Mahayuti, he also faces the challenge of keeping his aides from joining the rival NCP (SP) and more importantly- retaining the Baramati state assembly seat – which he has won for seven-times in a row, in the upcoming Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha polls.

    Shinde Sena’s Tiff With Ajit Pawar’s NCP

    When Ajit Pawar declared himself as the new chief of the NCP a year back and joined the BJP-led Mahayuti, the coalition partner Shiv Sena led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde was visibly disturbed with his entry.

    When Shinde wrested control of the Shiv Sena from Uddhav Thackeray in 2022 and took the party back into the Mahayuti fold, the new Shiv Sena chief had justified his actions by claiming that Sena under the latter’s leadership had deviated from the Hindutva ideology by forming a government in 2019 along with its ideological opponents – the undivided NCP of the past led by Sharad Pawar and the Congress. 

    More importantly, Shinde and other Sena leaders who sided with him, consistently claimed that Ajit Pawar, also a Deputy Chief Minister and in-charge of the Finance Department back then, along with Sharad Pawar had been systematically trimming Sena’s influence across the state. 

    Shinde-led Sena leaders in their public interactions alleged that Ajit Pawar in order to cause displeasure against Sena among voters was deliberately devolving less funds in those state assembly seats which were represented by Sena Legislators. Come July 2023 and Sena leaders led by their chief Shinde had a tough time justifying their assent to let Ajit Pawar and his party join the Mahayuti fold. 

    Post Ajit Pawar’s entry, within the coalition the senior BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis too has constantly been on toes to keep Shinde Sena and Ajit Pawar-led NCP leaders from fighting. However, leaders from both – Shinde Sena as well as the Ajit Pawar-led NCP have now started directing brickbats against each other in public.

    In the most recent such instance, Ramdas Kadam of the Shinde Sena said that it would have been better had Ajit Pawar-led NCP joined the Mahayuti camp sometime later after the Lok Sabha and the upcoming State Assembly polls.

    Justifying Kadam’s statement, Shinde Sena cadre Swarajya spoke with said that Mahayuti’s credibility was being questioned due to Ajit Pawar’s entry since both - Sena of the past and the BJP had rallied hard against him in the past for allegedly being involved in the multi crore Irrigation and the State Co-Operative Bank Scam.

    Talks Of Close Aides Planning To Part Ways With Ajit Pawar

    Before the Lok Sabha polls when it all seemed that Ajit Pawar was in control of his party and the situation, two of his party-men ditched him to join the rival NCP (SP). First to do so was Nilesh Lanke, a Legislator from Parner followed by Bajrang Sonawane, a party functionary from Beed. 

    After joining NCP (SP), not only did Lanke and Sonawane manage to be nominated as the party candidates in the Lok Sabha seats of Ahmednagar and Beed, both emerged victorious. 

    Now, since Sunetra Pawar was defeated in the Baramati Lok Sabha seat, Ajit Pawar decided to nominate her to the lone Rajya Sabha which had been allotted to it as per the understanding within the Mahayuti.

    However, this hasn’t gone down well with the prominent OBC leader Chhagan Bhujbal, a Minister in the State Cabinet who had joined Ajit Pawar despite being considered as a Sharad Pawar loyalist. After Sunetra Pawar’s nomination, Bhujbal – who was previously with Shiv Sena of the past, Congress and later joined NCP in 1999 – is said to have been miffed for not having been considered for the Rajya Sabha. 

    In an interaction with a regional news channel, when asked whether he was going to stay put with Ajit Pawar or join hands with Sharad Pawar, Bhujbal said that he was going to stay with the NCP and not any leader in particular.

    Apart from Bhujbal, rumours are rife that former Assembly Speaker and Dindori Legislator Narhari Zirwal, who was also considered a Sharad Pawar loyalist yet joined Ajit Pawar, is planning now to join the NCP (SP). The provocation for the rumours being Zirwal having declared support to Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray) candidate from the rival MVA coalition in the upcoming graduate constituency MLC elections.

    Task Of Securing The Home Pitch

    Sharad Pawar-led NCP (SP) putting up an impressive show in the recently held Lok Sabha polls was considered spectacular not only because it is a newly formed party but also because of the narrative that the wily 83 year-old leader is still the one who calls the shots- whether in the family or in politics.

    After ensuring victory of his daughter in Baramati and that of his party candidates elsewhere, senior Pawar is back on the ground extensively touring parts of Western Maharashtra which is considered as the core of his sphere of influence.

    Notably, the leader has already covered all segments of the Baramati state assembly constituency four months before the Maharashtra State Assembly polls.

    During the Lok Sabha polls, Swarajya heard the voters in Baramati saying that while they will choose the NCP (SP) leader's daughter for the Lok Sabha, they will vote in favour of Ajit Pawar when he contests as his party's candidate for the Baramati state assembly seat in future.

    Acquiescent of this sentiment on the ground, Sharad Pawar has now indirectly started canvassing for Ajit Pawar's nephew Yugendra Pawar as the future Legislator for Baramati. Not only is Yugendra, son of Ajit Pawar's brother Shrinivas Pawar, seen accompanying the NCP (SP) chief on his tours, but he now also attends the Janata Durbar meets held in Baramati to address grievances of the locals.

    If Yugendra Pawar is nominated as the NCP (SP) candidate for Baramati and manages to pull it off, this could mean a deadly setback to Ajit Pawar's political career.

    For Sharad Pawar on the other hand, this would mean another grandnephew becoming ready to steer the party as his other grandnephew Rohit Pawar, grandson of senior Pawar's brother Appasaheb Pawar and Legislator from Jamkhed-Karjat state assembly seat, has already entrenched himself in politics as a force to reckon with.

    Whatever is the course of events ahead from now until State Assembly polls are held, Baramati will continue to be in the spotlight.

    Staff Writer at Swarajya

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