‘Pawar Game’ – When personality is bigger than the organisation
By G Krishna Mohan Rao*
On Tuesday, May 2, 2023, veteran politician and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar announced his decision to quit as president of the party he founded and had headed since 1999 when he left the Congress Party to chart his own political course.
Pawar announced his decision at the launch of his revised autobiography, Lok Majhe Sangati. He was upset with reports that a section of the NCP led by his nephew Ajit Pawar was moving closer towards the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Today, “giving in to the demands of the party and people in general”, Pawar withdrew his resignation. The decision came this evening after much deliberations and a lot of political activity, besides pressure from party leaders and supporters. It was obvious that the decision to withdraw his resignation was made after the party’s core committee unanimously adopted a resolution urging Pawar to continue at the helm. When the core committee conveyed its decision to Pawar, the veteran leader sought time to consider the core committee’s decision.
The possibility of Pawar withdrawing his resignation though was well anticipated in the political circles right from the day he resigned from the post. It was obvious that he wanted to check the revolt in the party and his resignation was only a part of this strategy. Till today morning Pawar’s daughter and a Member of Parliament from Pawar’s stronghold Baramati, Supriya Sule, was the front-runner for the top post. And so was his nephew Ajit too! The NCP Maharashtra state president Jayant Patil maintained that veteran Pawar should at least continue till the Civic and Lok Sabha polls.
Today the NCP party witnessed hectic activity at the party’s South Mumbai office, where the core committee in its meeting rejected Pawar’s resignation from the post of party president. Briefing newsmen, after the core committee meeting, the NCP vice president and former union minister Praful Patel informed that Sharad Pawar had taken his decision to quit without informing other party members.
Sharad Pawar had appointed the core committee of party leaders to elect a new party president after announcing his resignation on Tuesday. The main agenda of the core committee was to consider Pawar’s successor in the party. However, in today’s meeting, the core committee felt that 83-year-old Pawar, who founded the party in 1999, must continue till at least the next Lok Sabha elections, scheduled in 2024, given the present political situation in the country. It adopted a unanimous resolution to block the resignation of the party chief which implied that it has rejected his resignation. The 18-member committee that met today had in it, besides Praful Patel, Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar, Anil Deshmukh, Chagan Bhujbal, Anil Deshmukh and Dilip Wales Patil.
Ever since Tuesday, pressure had been mounting on Pawar to withdraw his resignation. In fact, yesterday, Pawar, unexpectedly had a brief interaction with the agitating party workers, saying he will take a decision on his resignation in a day or two.
Apart from NCP leaders, political party leaders across the spectrum including the Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin and several Shiv Sena leaders, had asked Pawar to rethink his decision to quit ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and requested him to continue in his post, Patel told reporters.
In fact, Pawar’s decision to quit as party chief, sent shock signals to not only NCP but also to Shiv Sena and the Congress Party, which are part of the MVA ( Maha Vikas Agashi) alliance that is taking on the BJP in Maharashtra.
Interestingly, in Lok Manjhe Sangati, Pawar wrote that the Congress Party’s arrogance was evident during the talks that led to the Congress and NCP joining hands with the undivided Shiv Sena after the 2019 assembly polls. He also mentioned that it was difficult to fathom why Uddhav Thackeray as Chief Minister chose to visit Mantralaya, the state secretariat in south Mumbai, only twice during the coronavirus pandemic. Pawar blamed Uddhav for failing to quell the discontent within his own party and for resigning as Maharashtra Chief Minister without putting up a fight.
It is felt that Pawar’s present moves would have far-reaching ramifications. An editorial in the Shiv Sena(Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) mouthpiece “Saamna” said the end motive of Pawar’s nephew and top NCP leader Ajit Pawar is to become the chief minister. Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule has a good presence in Delhi and she works very efficiently in Parliament, said the editorial. The Sena newspaper also observed that the announcement to step down could also be Pawar’s way to assess organisational strength if the NCP MLAs walked away just like the Shiv Sena, referring to Eknath Shinde’s rebellion last year. Saamna said that those NCP leaders who fell at Pawar’s feet and had tears in their eyes after he announced his resignation ‘have one foot in the BJP’. In other words, by quitting, Pawar exposed the fence sitters within the NCP. The editorial concluded that a faction of the NCP is on the verge of joining the BJP.