The prodigal nephew
Ajit Pawar's relationship with his uncle, and his position in the party was always turbulent; on Saturday, it came out in the open
Maharashtra on Saturday witnessed the latest episode of the 'Nephew's Curse', with Ajit Pawar seemingly splitting from uncle Sharad Pawar's NCP to take oath as deputy chief minister in Devendra Fadnavis's government.
Ajit Pawar joins Raj Thackeray, who broke away from uncle Bal; Dhananjay Munde, who left uncle Gopinath; Ashish Deshmukh, who left, and then beat, his uncle Anil in 2014; and Sandep Kshirsagar, who defeated his uncle Jaidutt in 2019.
None of these splits shook the state as much as Ajit Pawar's did, as a long-brewing family rift exploded on television sets early on Saturday morning and laid to waste the day's front pages featuring Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray's imminent coronation.
However, by press time on Saturday, there was no clarity on how many MLAs are with Ajit Pawar and whether his gamble will pay off when it is time for the all-important floor test.
For now, though, it is clear that Ajit has been upset about the goings on in the NCP for some time. He almost split the party during the previous Democratic Front government, when Sharad Pawar denied him the post of deputy chief minister. He was even upset that he was not made chief minister despite the NCP having more MLAs than the Congress. Sharad Pawar had then negotiated for more power for the party, and promoted the likes of Chhagan Bhujbal. He was eventually made deputy CM, but Sharad Pawar continued to control the party.
That sense of insecurity never left Ajit Pawar, even as Supriya Sule emerged as another power centre. However, he was a darling among party supporters, thanks to his ruthless ways of getting welfare work done.
The bulldozing ways also landed him in trouble, the irrigation scam being the standout. Ironically, it was Fadnavis who back then kept raking up the scam in assembly and court, resulting in Chavan ordering a white paper. Pawar resigned, but returned soon after the document absolved him of serious charges. Around the same time, he also got embroiled in a cooperatives scam, which the Enforcement Directorate is now probing.
All the while, trouble was brewing within the NCP. Ajit Pawar's son Parth was given a Lok Sabha ticket from Maval. Sharad Pawar refrained from contesting, as "the three members from the family contesting for Lok Sabha seats would be an injustice to sincere party workers". After Parth became the first Pawar to lose an election, things started deteriorating. Sharad Pawar promoted another grandnephew, Rohit, who defeated sitting BJP minister Ram Shinde in Karjat-Jamkhed. The buzz inside the NCP was that Rohit would soon overshadow Ajit Pawar.
Little wonder, then, that the BJP saw the writing on the wall when others didn't, and worked on it very discreetly when the three-party alliance was taking shape. The BJP is even accused of blackmailing a vulnerable Ajit into submission. In the run up to the assembly election, he dramatically chose to resign from his assembly seat the day Pawar decided to visit the ED office. He was placated by the uncle and the extended family, and appeared before the media the next day and shed tears saying he was hurt by the BJP's design to malign his uncle's image.
Two months after those dramatic events, Ajit Pawar is front and centre again. But the only question that matters now is: Does he have the numbers?
Total number of MLAs an undivided NCP has in the House
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