With age not on his side and his staunch supporters deserting him, the 82-year-old Maratha strongman faces an uphill task to rebuild NCP which has already lost its national party status-unless this rebellion too has happened with his blessings like in 2019. Last week, after three years of denial, Pawar admitted that the 2019 coup by Ajit was a ‘googly’ bowled by him to expose how the so-called ‘party with a difference’ and Devendra Fadnavis were not averse to having strange bedfellows.
Many NCP members believe Pawar’s body language at Sunday’s press conference was indicative of the same. “There is every likelihood that before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, he will say the same thing about today’s development-another googly,” a senior NCP leader said.
When asked what if Sunday’s developments were not by design, many NCP leaders said then it’s the end of the road for Pawar. “It is one thing to rebuild the party at 43 and another when you are 82,” they said.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar made it clear he would stay away from getting entangled in a legal battle against Ajit and others over the party’s symbol and use of its name by them. Pawar said he was not shocked by the exodus as he has witnessed similar things in the past too. “After the 1980 state elections, of the 58 MLAs, 52 deserted my party.
I rebuilt the party and in the next polls, it won 69 seats,” he said. On Sunday, Pawar vehemently denied that he was in the know of Ajit’s move to become the deputy chief minister in the Shinde-Fadnavis government.
He even said that Ajit and the party’s MLAs have taken a line against the NCP’s political ideology which was amplified by him by holding meetings with likeminded opposition parties across India to put up a united challenge to the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. In 2019 too, when Ajit had joined the short-lived Fadnavis government, Pawar was busy putting up a united front of the NCP, Congress, and Uddhav Babasaheb Thackeray’s Shiv Sena (the MVA) against the BJP.
An NCP leader said, “Do you believe that Saheb (Pawar) who has been in state politics for the last six decades and who became Maharashtra’s youngest chief minister when he was just 38 years old will not know that Ajit and over 40 MLAs are leaving his party? Look at the names of those who have left.
Most of them are those who have flourished only because their sugar factories and cooperatives were supported by Saheb. Will they dare do such things without his approval?” “Pawar is doing a balancing act. On the one hand, the NCP leaders against whom I-T and ED cases are pending will now breathe easy as they are part of the ruling coalition and on the other hand, the senior Pawar will continue to build a front against the BJP.
This way, we can buy time, mobilize resources and keep our flock together under Ajit,” an NCP leader said, admitting that the strategy may erode the credibility of his party leaders in the near future. Pawar started his political career as the Pune Youth Congress chief at the age of 22 under the guidance of his mentor and Maharashtra’s tallest Congress leader and former deputy Prime Minister late Y B Chavan.
On Monday, Pawar will visit Chavan’s memorial from where he plans to launch a campaign to rebuild the NCP. When asked “who will be the reassuring face of the party in the future”, the octogenarian raised his hand and said,“Sharad Pawar.”