Ajit Pawar’s resignation from the post of Dy CM has brought to the fore the widening rift between him and Sharad Pawar
The sudden political crisis in Maharashtra’s ruling coalition due to Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar’s resignation seems to have been a unilateral decision, taking his party supremo Sharad Pawar, also his own uncle, by surprise.
The uncle, founder-head of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Union minister for agriculture, was for a long while supposed to consider the ambitious nephew his political heir. Ajit Pawar, 53, is officially head of the party unit in the state legislative Assembly, apart from being Deputy CM. Yet, there have long been indications of a growing set of differences between the two. Among other things, Ajit Pawar is believed to be restive at the projection of his cousin and Sharad Pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule, 43, a Lok Sabha member from her father’s earlier constituency, as the possible successor to the senior’s political legacy — she is currently travelling extensively across the state, to campaign for the party’s college girls’ wing.
Even so, Ajit Pawar’s decision to quit the ministry, while retaining his headship of the NCP legislative unit over growing allegations of corruption and irregularities in the irrigation sector over the decade when he was in charge of it, was quite a shocker. Sharad Pawar was not asked for permission or even consulted, a bizarre position, given the added fact that various NCP ministers in the coalition also declared they’d resign to show solidarity. The party supremo then issued a public veto on this idea.
The onus clearly lies on Ajit Pawar to prove why 32 irrigation projects, especially in the Vidarbha region that recorded so many suicides by farmers, were approved with 300 per cent higher costs. Though he strongly denies the charges, announcing preparedness to face any inquiry, there seem few takers in neutral circles for his version.
Earlier, in May last year, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s decision to suspend the board of directors of Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank attracted angry reaction from Ajit Pawar. His uncle and he had dominated the board and it was, therefore, considered a well-thought move by Chavan to try and expose them, as well as a corruption-ridden sector. Chavan’s unilateral announcement to release an official position paper on the irrigation sector’s projects had been attacked by Ajit Pawar and his supporters. No one, though, expected this move.
Ajit Pawar has come a long way in Maharashtra politics. From being just a nephew of Sharad Pawar to the Deputy CM, he has been able to create his own identity in state politics. He first made a foray into politics in 1982, when he was elected to a sugar cooperative body. In 1991, he was elected chairman of the Pune District Co-operative Bank. In the same year, he was elected an MP from his home town, Baramati. He resigned six months later after his uncle was appointed defence minister in the central government. He returned to the state, and won the Assembly seat from Baramati. When Sharad Pawar returned to become state chief minister, the nephew served, first as minister of state in various departments, and then moved up.
After the 2009 Assembly elections, Ajit Pawar sulked at not being appointed the Deputy CM (the Congress retained the post of CM); he got his way in December 2010 when he replaced Chhagan Bhujbal in that post. He’d also, by then, succeeded in forging a reputation as a fast decision maker and a leader who would stop at nothing to get his work done. Repeated allegations of irregularities in the irrigation sector, though, during his tenure as minister between 1999 and 2009 overshadowed his image as a decisive manager.
Now, Ajit Pawar’s options seem limited. It is difficult to see how he’d be able to battle his own godfather, as well as his many antagonists within the Congress.