His resignation as NCP chief also leaves the door open for possible alliance with BJP
FORMER UNION MINISTER and founder president of the Nationalist Congress Party, Sharad Pawar, is adept at killing many birds with one stone. His decision to step down from the post of president of the NCP is one such move. The Maratha strongman announced his decision to quit on May 2 at the release of the updated edition of his autobiography in Mumbai. A stunned audience, comprising party leaders and office-bearers, had tears in their eyes and started raising slogans urging him not to resign. Pawar, accompanied by his wife, Pratibha, sat through the event, but made no commitments.
Pawar and his family have been dropping hints about a major decision for the past few days. He recently repeated his famous statement that it was time to flip the bread on the pan or it would get burnt. Pawar has used this analogy many times in the past when he wanted to effect major changes in the government or the party. So, while NCP members were expecting some major announcement, they were hardly prepared for the news that Pawar was stepping down.
But the move appears to have been carefully planned. Pawar’s family was clearly in the loop as his daughter, Supriya Sule, said a couple of weeks ago that there would soon be a “big explosion” in Maharashtra politics. His nephew, Ajit Pawar, said that the decision was expected on May 1 itself, but it was delayed by a day to make sure that a major Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) rally planned for the day would not get affected. Interestingly, as leader after leader urged Pawar not to resign, Ajit was the only one who supported his uncle’s decision. He told NCP workers that Pawar was not retiring from politics and would be there to guide the party and its new president.
Pawar has named a committee to elect the new president, comprising 12 senior NCP leaders including Sule, Ajit, party vice president Praful Patel and Maharashtra chief Jayant Patil. But as several party leaders asked Pawar to rethink and even tendered their resignations, he said he would take a couple of days to give it a second thought. The committee is likely to meet on May 5 or 6. Pawar said the committee’s decision would be acceptable to him.
So, will Pawar relent? “Unlikely,” said political analyst Pratap Asbe. “Pawar has rarely gone back on his decisions. He has been wanting to hand over the baton to the next generation for some years. That is why he stopped contesting Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and moved to the Rajya Sabha. Now he has announced that this will be his last term in the upper house as well. Clearly, Pawar appears to have made up his mind. But this does not mean that he is retiring from politics. He has moved to the role of the elder statesman who will be the guide and mentor to the new leadership.”
A senior Congress leader who has worked with Pawar said in political parties dominated by one family or one person it was very rare to see the leader deciding to step down. He, however, pointed out that the decision could affect the MVA and former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. “Pawar was the glue that kept the MVA together and Uddhav’s leadership was accepted only because Pawar suggested his name as chief minister. The MVA may stay together for some time but Uddhav certainly will not be its leader. Ajit Pawar and Jayant Patil have far better political acumen and experience than Uddhav,” said the Congress leader. He said Pawar offered to rethink his decision only to defuse the situation. “He will also make sure that the committee announced to elect the new president will essentially fall back on him to make the choice.”
The new president has his task cut out as the NCP is trying to regain its national party status. It may require attracting leaders who are unhappy in the Congress and also in parties from the non-BJP bloc. Pawar has always played his politics in such a manner that while the Congress has remained an NCP ally, the BJP has not exactly been its enemy. So, the new president has to be someone who has the ability to pull off this trick. “Right now, there is no such leader who has Pawar’s ability. So, Sule could be made working president and will be asked to work in Delhi while Ajit would control the state as he has no national ambitions,” said the Congress leader.
With his move, Pawar has checkmated the group of NCP leaders who have been thinking of taking the party closer to the BJP. NCP leaders do not like to remain out of power for long. That is why a large group in the NCP was trying to shift to the BJP camp to enjoy the benefits of power and to steer clear of the corruption cases being probed by Central agencies. It could have caused a split in the NCP. Now, with Pawar’s decision to step down, there is a sympathy wave in his favour and no NCP leader can think of breaking away.
Through his latest announcement, Pawar has made sure that politics in Maharashtra will continue to revolve around him. It is a message to the BJP, the Shiv Sena factions, the Congress and also to his own party colleagues. But what is interesting is that he has also left the door open for a possible political realignment between the NCP and the BJP. And if it were to happen, Pawar could well say that it was the decision taken by the new leadership and he was just a guide and mentor. That way, he will be able to make sure that his image of a secular statesman remains unaffected.
Source: The Week