Any split was averted, and Ajit Pawar would think twice before making such an attempt. Add to it the ripples he created in the BJP and Congress
Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar surprised friends and foes alike with his sudden decision to give up the presidency of his Party recently, only to withdraw it after three days. It ultimately became a storm in a teacup. Had Pawar stuck to his decision, it could have considerably weakened his Party, the MVA, and the fight against the BJP in the state, which sends 48 members to the Lok Sabha. Sharad Pawar plays the guessing game better than most others. By his revocation, Sharad Pawar
has stolen a march over nephew Ajit and consolidated the support of his party workers.
Resignation is the favourite game charismatic leaders resort to when their Party rebels. Others like former Karnataka chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde, Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray, and Sonia Gandhi used it successfully. Pawar's resignation drama gave a shock treatment to his Party and other opposition leaders. He heckled his nephew Ajit Pawar who was contemplating splitting the Party and joining the BJP with himself as the chief minister. He successfully diverted the attention that his Party was facing internal trouble.
There were three crucial players in the present power play. One was Sharad Pawar, who wanted a succession plan. The second was his daughter Supriya, and the third was Ajit Pawar. Pawar's resignation and withdrawal drama was scripted by himself. Being a clever politician, he kept his Party and the Opposition guessing whether he would take back the resignation for three days. As expected, senior leaders in the Party and even opposition leaders persuaded him to take back the resignation. The core committee to search for Pawar's successor came back and said it rejected the resignation unanimously.
As per his script known only to his family, Pawar agreed to remain, claiming he "can't disrespect the emotions of so many people." he said. Your love has made me emotional. The decision by the senior NCP leaders' committee was informed to me, and I respect it. As such, I withdraw my decision to resign from the post." The NCP chief said that although he will continue his responsibilities, his primary focus would be creating new leadership and handing over new responsibilities to them. A cancer survivor, Pawar was emotional when he said, "My political career, which started in 1960, has been going on for 63 years without any hindrance. It is time to step down and give a chance to new leadership." He asserted, "That is why I decided to leave the NCP President's post", he revealed in an interview.
Many people knew of the power struggle between his nephew Ajit Pawar and his only child Supriya Sule, a Parliament member. It is no big secret that Pawar would like to hand over the baton to Supriya Sule. Also, Pawar has been suspicious of his nephew's plan. Senior BJP leaders have assured Ajit that if he could mobilise enough NCP legislators, they would make him the chief minister, replacing Eknath Shinde.
Pawar clarified that he was not taking political sanyas, "There will be no separation from me or public retirement. I was with you; I am and will always be there till my last breath." In short, he would continue to loom large. Secondly, Pawar knew that his Party was sliding and had lost its national status recently; the NCP had not been able to penetrate new voters. Since its formation in 1999, the NCP has always ridden piggyback to share power — first with the Congress Party and later with the Shiv Sena-Congress in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition. There is an urgent need to strengthen the NCP.
Thirdly, Pawar's health and his age were not on his side. Hence the urgency for a succession plan. At the national level, Pawar has already positioned himself to mobilise non-BJP parties ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls as an influential leader with friends in all the parties. He said," My responsibility is in the larger interest of the nation to bring together like minor parties and provide an alternative to the people."
He clarified his role ahead of the 2024 polls: "I enjoy personal relations with many who said that I was required for this. They include Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury and many more." He also told NDTV
While many opposition leaders are against promoting Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as the opposition candidate, they would support Sharad Pawar. Even Parties like BRS, YSRCP, and BJD, reluctant to join the UPA, may also support Sharad Pawar's post as PM.
On the whole, Pawar's game plan worked to his satisfaction. Any split was averted, and Ajit Pawar would think twice before making such an attempt. The non-BJP Opposition would also look up to him. Pawar, in his way, turned the disadvantage to his advantage.
(The author is a senior journalist)