Rain-soaked Sharad Pawar addressing a rally in Satara, admitting he made “mistakes” in the Lok Sabha election earlier this year. This image of Sharad Pawar – telecast on national channels, published in newspapers and shared widely on social media – became iconic in the Maharashtra Assembly election. The grit and determination of Sharad Pawar ensured his resurgence in Maharashtra politics.
The Satara rally on October 18 had come a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in the same district. PM Modi had targeted Sharad Pawar saying that he had chickened in contest during the Lok Sabha election and did not put up a candidate at Satara knowing it was futile.
Facing taunts and fighting for survival of his party, Sharad Pawar launched an aggressive campaign for Maharashtra Assembly election. He held 66 election rallies in Maharashtra, most of them in his stronghold of western part of the state.
Sharad Pawar’s untiring campaign put his NCP in the kingmaker’s role after the Shiv Sena fell out with the BJP over the question of rotational chief ministership. The NCP won 54 seats – 15 more than the 2014 figure – besides winning the Lok Sabha bypoll at Satara in a befitting response to PM Modi’s jibe at Sharad Pawar.
The victory was sweeter for Sharad Pawar given that he had been discounted by , almost everyone – from political observers to his rivals – going into the Maharashtra Assembly election. Nobody gave much weightage to Sharad Pawar and his Nationalist Congress Party in the Maharashtra election.
He was found battling at another front. Sharad Pawar’s name had cropped up in connection with corruption cases in which his nephew Ajit Pawar and trusted aide Praful Patel were alleged to be involved. Central agencies were probing the cases.
The NCP had not fared well in three consecutive elections – 2014 Lok Sabha election, 2014 Maharashtra Assembly election and 2019 Lok Sabha election. Many had declared the 79-year-old Maratha strongman a finished politician. That was perhaps the challenge that the campaigner in Sharad Pawar needed to test his mettle one more time.
After the election results were announced and the Shiv Sena parted ways with the BJP, Sharad Pawar took the centrestage. He was the link between the Congress and the Shiv Sena while “manipulating” both the parties to his advantage.
At one point of time, when Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Ahmed Patel of the Congress – the closest aide of party president Sonia Gandhi – held one-on-one meeting, they reportedly “found” that Sharad Pawar was delaying the three-party alliance and government formation in Maharashtra for his own considerations.
An NCP letter to Governor BS Koshiyari was blamed for imposition of President’s Rule when the Shiv Sena and the Congress had apparently agreed on power-sharing arrangement. Sharad Pawar seemed to be losing “face” and the advantage he held in the three-party talks. But with imposition of President’s Rule, Sharad Pawar again turned the equation in his favour and became the point-person for finalisation of the common minimum programme and other conditions of the three-party Maha Vikas Aghadi (Grand Development Front).
Again when the three-party alliance was almost there, Ajit Pawar rebelled – not yet known by design or default. Ajit Pawar, after switching sides to support the BJP in government formation, had declared that Sharad Pawar remained his leader and that the NCP and the BJP were together in the ruling alliance.
Sharad Pawar used the rebellion – if it actually was– of Ajit Pawar to settle another battle in his favour. There have been talks that Sharad Pawar wants to hand over the reins of NCP to his daughter Supriya Sule and not Ajit Pawar, who had been harbouring ambition of succeeding Sharad Pawar, both in the party and the Maratha politics.
Promotion of Supriya Sule by Sharad Pawar was reportedly being resisted by Ajit Pawar. The bitterness only increased between the siblings when Ajit Pawar took oath with Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday morning. Sule had called it “betrayal”.
Sharad Pawar changed this situation again to his advantage. He did not expel or suspend Ajit Pawar, who has enormous control over his NCP, though many questioned the tactic.
Sharad Pawar kept sending emissaries to Ajit Pawar while ensuring that he spoke to each one of the NCP MLAs. In three days, Ajit Pawar saw futility of his rebellion — it at all it was – and tendered resignation from the post of deputy chief minister. Ajit Pawar had not even attended the only cabinet meeting that Devendra Fadnvis called as the 80-hour chief minister.
By the time the Devendra Fadnavis-Ajit Pawar misadventure ended in a disaster, the BJP had been outwitted, the NCP MLAs secured and Ajit Pawar tamed. Sharad Pawar had won almost all the battles of Maharashtra 2019.
Moral of the story is: Don’t mess up with Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra politics. He will not only outfox you but may also finish you.