It runs in the family

The Mahabharata holds timeless lessons for us. King Dhritarashtra, blind at birth, prefers his sons --  the Kauravas -- to take over his empire instead of his dead elder brother's sons -- the Pandavas.

The result? An epic, almost apocalyptic war, that annihilates one part of the family and ensures victory for the just. Indian politics, specifically Maharashtra politics, is rife with such examples, and no better ones than the top three political families of the state - the Thackerays, the Mundes and the Pawars.

In the rift between Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray and his nephew Raj Thackeray, the former preferred son Uddhav to take over the mantle of party president is well-known. Two new political battles in the state could turn out to be crucial for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Both Gopinath Munde of the BJP and Pawar could end up facing upheavals within the family because of their preference for their offspring rather than their nephews, who are seen to be more politically able.

While Pawar handed over the reins of his traditional Baramati Lok Sabha constituency to daughter Supriya Sule, Munde ensured his daughter Pankaja Palwe smoothly took over reins of his Parli assembly constituency. Consequently, Pawar's nephew, Ajit Pawar, who is Maharashtra's deputy CM and no mean political heavyweight himself; and Dhananjay Munde, the nephew of the BJP strongman Gopinath Munde, could well have declared a quiet war on their female cousins. Dhananjay has even made strong, yet cover overtures to Ajit Pawar, making the scenario even more intriguing than it seemingly is.

Arguably, the cracks in the Pawar family are not as visible as they have been with the Thackerays and the Mundes. But, a few incidents may throw some light on these 'invisible' fissures. At the swearing-in ceremony of the Prithviraj Chavan government on November 11 last year, no member of the Pawar family was present, except Sule, despite the fact that Ajit was to take oath as deputy CM. NCP men may argue that even when Democratic Front governments under Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan were sworn in, Pawar Sr was not present. But then, Ajit was just a minister in those governments, while this time, he was elevated to deputy chief minister. He also took over as the leader of the NCP legislature party, ignoring Sharad Pawar's wish to retain Chhagan Bhujbal. The Pawars are known to be discreet in public when it comes to internal squabbles.

They spare no effort to hide their rifts. But recently, the NCP witnessed two different projects as part of the 'Save the Girl Child' campaign. While Ajit Pawar supporter, Vinayak Mete (a member of the Legislative Council) launched the Ajit Balika Suraksha Yojana, his cousin Supriya led a march from Naigaon in Satara district to Pune, for the same cause. And, despite him being listed as a guest, Ajit Pawar was conspicuous by his absence at a function in Pune organised at the end of the march.

The latest rift, sources say, is that the Pawars have serious differences over inducting members of other political families into the NCP. Insiders say Pawar Sr was against inducting Dhananjay Munde into the party after the 2009 general elections. Since then Dhananjay has gotten closer to Ajit. Interestingly, Dhananjay's brother-in-law Madhusudan Kendre joined the NCP at a grand function in Parbhani.  After this, Dhananjay joining the NCP perhaps remains a formality, say those privy to the developments.

If he indeed does join the NCP, it would be a huge embarrassment for Gopinath Munde, who is fighting his own battle within the BJP as well as for control over political affairs in Beed, his home district. BJP insiders say it was Sharad Pawar who played a very important role in getting Pankaja elected to the assembly by relinquishing his party's claim over Parli seat. Had it been NCP's Sudamati Gutte as the party candidate in Parli, things would have been different, they say. Ajit has been making inroads into districts that the NCP had, in the past, unwilling to venture into.

In the Thackeray family, Uddhav is incensed over Raj's overtures to the BJP; be it his cousin's visit to party's state office in Mumbai or his closeness with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Raj's decision to support Modi for the prime ministership has also added fuel to the already raging fire.

Ravikiran Deshmukh is MiD DAY's political editor

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