No longer symbolism for the Pawars as they fight for a better future

26 February,2024 07:18 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Dharmendra Jore

Veteran Sharad Pawar and nephew Ajit face off in battle for Baramati dominance

Sharad Pawar during the launch of the party’s new symbol at Raigad Fort. Pic/PTI

The forthcoming election won't be just another one for veteran Sharad Pawar, who has lost the party he had founded a quarter of a century ago, to his nephew Ajit. In 1999, he created his outfit, the Nationalist Congress Party.

He then made an alliance government with the Congress that had expelled him a few months ago for challenging ‘foreigner' Sonia Gandhi's authority. Fighting on a fresh election symbol of a ‘clock', the unified NCP won a good number of Assembly seats in Maharashtra but did not exceed the Congress tally.

Pawar is at it again, but the circumstances that have led to a situation similar to 1999 are different in 2024. Then, it was him against others. Now, it is him versus his nephew Ajit, who is powered by none other than the almighty of the national political set-up.

Pawar had said, after the Shiv Sena splitters fought for the symbol and party name, and later reiterated when his party broke in two, that the ‘new' election symbol didn't matter much in electioneering. "I have had many new election symbols in my career," he had said, insisting that neither him nor his promising candidates had lost once whenever they contested on a new symbol.

True that at this point in time, the circulation of new symbols would be done with a phenomenal reach and impressive manner much before the elections. Can't compare the 20th century polls with the 21st century's information technology-driven campaigns. Little wonder, then that, like Uddhav Thackeray's ‘mashal' (torch), Sharad Pawar NPC's symbol of ‘man blowing a tutari or blow horn' reached out to the people merely hours after their release, thanks to the modern means of communication and social media.

In the coming Lok Sabha elections, a variety of established and new symbols - one each of the BJP and Congress, two each of the Sena and NCP splinters and their allies - will be seen during campaigning. The sharing of 48 seats between the rival alliances will decide the promising line-up for the respective constituencies. One thing is for sure Maharashtra won't have a seamless campaign like two-party states. BJP's 44-year-old ‘lotus' will be seen on most EVM screens, followed by a slightly more aged ‘Hand' of the Congress and Sena UBT's ‘mashal', depending on the seat-sharing deal the MVA partners strike.

Blow from the top

Its symbol taken care of, thanks to the Supreme Court directive that the Election Commission cannot delay it, the Sharad Pawar faction chose a high-altitude place of significance in Maratha history - the Raigad Fort which served as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's capital - to unveil it.

Critics who have been following Pawar's position in the Maratha quota agitation ever since it started in the early ‘80s, linked the event to Pawar's effort to appease the agitated Marathas. They said the Maratha leader would not invoke the Maratha Hindu King and did not visit the Shivaji fort in many decades because he did not want to upset the minority votes. "Why now?" asked Pawar Senior's political opponents. DyCM Devendra Fadnavis poked Pawar, attributing the veteran's first visit to Raigad fort in 40 years to Ajit Pawar.

Family battle in Baramati?

Pawar family's fiefdom Baramati has rarely created electoral waves, because there would be no contest at all. The family patriarch and his appointees from the family or outside represented it in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha.

Ajit Pawar began his career from this Lok Sabha seat but vacated within months for the uncle. He shifted entirely to state politics as the uncle handed Supriya the Lok Sabha baton and later made her national working president of the party. The distribution of work, say the handing of legacy, was said to be one of the reasons for Ajit's exit.

People said till the last elections that anyone nominated by Sharad Pawar for the seat would be the hands-down winner. The BJP made serious efforts to invade Baramati but in vain. It did not really get close to defeating the Pawars in their stronghold, though some believed Mahadev Jankar, a BJP ally, stood a better chance against Supriya in the Modi wave of 2014. Jankar's loss was attributed to his denial of contesting on the BJP's election symbol. Supriya won the next handsomely. Like his cousin, Ajit too had been registering record-winning margins.

Will the summer of 2024 be the same? It is said Baramati is likely to witness a contest that would further define the wideness of the rift between Ajit and his uncle (and his supporters in the extended family). Grapevine says that either Sunetra, Ajit's wife or his son Parth, would be pitted against Supriya. Parth had lost on his Lok Sabha debut from Maval in 2019.

Sunetra, a homemaker-turned-social worker, no longer shuns public life. She has been very active since the NCP split, using all her understanding that she had gathered from the Pawar family and her paternal family in Dharashiv. Her elder brother Dr Padamsinh Patil was a minister and long-time close Pawar associate. Her BJP legislator nephew, Rana Jagjit Sinh, was also a minister in the Congress-NCP governments.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore
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