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india today insight Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar’s presence at the meeting of the Opposition ‘INDIA’ bloc in Mumbai and inclusion in the coordination committee may have laid to rest speculation about him having any second thoughts about being a part of the anti-BJP front.

A senior leader of the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) said Pawar’s active participation in the convention and inclusion in the 14-member coordination committee had put an end to any speculation about the NCP patriarch breaking ranks with the Opposition front. The coordination committee includes, among others, K.C. Venugopal (Congress), Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut, Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav, Trinamool Congress (TMC) general secretary Abhishek Banerjee and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP Raghav Chadha. It is expected to steer the course of the rainbow coalition in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election next year.

“Pawar’s [recent] statements were in line with his usual brand of politics wherein he seeks to sow confusion and heighten speculation about his next move. Now, the rumours about Pawar’s wavering loyalties will be laid to rest,” explained the Shiv Sena leader from the Uddhav faction. He added that the Mumbai meeting had conveyed that not only the Congress but several other parties were trying to converge in an anti-BJP coalition.

This was seconded by a Congress leader, but with a caution. “For now, Pawar is with the ‘INDIA’ alliance and the MVA (Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi). However, his position in the event of the BJP falling short of numbers after the Lok Sabha polls remains to be seen,” he said.

The Congress, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) and Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP were hosts of the two-day convention in Mumbai.

On July 2, Pawar’s nephew Ajit had broken ranks with his uncle to join the BJP-Eknath Shinde government in Maharashtra as deputy chief minister. Thereafter, Ajit met Pawar at least four times, including on August 12 at the Pune residence of Atul Chordia, a real-estate magnate and close associate of Pawar. Ajit reportedly slept on the rear seat of his car to evade media crews while making a gateway.

These meetings with Ajit set the cat among the pigeons as did Pawar’s decision to share the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an award function in Pune on August 1 to honour the latter. Incidentally, after the split, Ajit had spoken out in public about his uncle’s previous attempts to strike an understanding with the BJP.

A senior Congress functionary had admitted that the Sharad-Ajit meetings had not gone down well with the NCP’s allies and had sown confusion among their workers and voters. Sanjay Raut, who is known to be close to Pawar even during the days their parties were political adversaries, had also expressed his dismay at the meetings.

The confusion was exacerbated further after Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule asserted that her cousin Ajit continued to be their leader. ”He is a senior leader and MLA of our party,” said Sule. ”Some among us have taken a different decision and we have complained about this to the [legislative assembly] speaker. There is no split in the NCP.”

On being questioned about Sule’s statement referring to Ajit as their leader, Pawar had remarked: ”He is. There is no question about it.” However, he changed his position after it raised hackles among MVA allies. ”I did not say he (Ajit) is our leader. Supriya said [this]. Supriya is his younger sister. There is no need to draw a political meaning,” said Pawar Senior.

It was speculated that the famously unpredictable Pawar was keeping his allies in the MVA and the INDIA bloc guessing about his next move. Sources in the NCP and the MVA parties admit that unlike the June 2022 split in the Shiv Sena, which saw the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA regime being toppled after Eknath Shinde and 39 other MLAs walked out of the Shiv Sena, the fault line in the NCP was deeper. The Pawar uncle and nephew share a common electoral catchment and together control a network of cooperatives and educational and other institutions. Sule, a three-term Lok Sabha MP from Baramati, also needs her elder cousin’s backing to get into Parliament.

Pawar had denied that his meeting with Ajit in Pune was a clandestine one and refuted claims about any offers being made by his nephew to him in lieu of support. He said they had met to discuss domestic issues. “As the head of the extended Pawar family, there is a system of sounding me out or seeking my advice when it comes to family matters,” added Pawar, while denying his party would go with the BJP.

Without naming Ajit, Pawar in public rallies and party events had rubbished the claims of his party rebels that they had joined the government to ensure development, and attributed their moves to threats of action from central investigation agencies like the Enforcement Directorate.

Clyde Crasto, national spokesperson of the NCP, stressed that Pawar stood firmly with the ‘INDIA’ alliance. “Family is one part and political leanings are another. Uncle and nephew can always meet as a family and there should be no political connotations to it. Pawar has decided to stand with ‘INDIA’ in the fight against the BJP. He has clarified that this (Pune) was a family meeting and no political motives must be attributed to it. These rumours have been spread by the BJP, which is feeling the undercurrent against it,” Crasto said.

The INDIA bloc and the MVA also received a shot in the arm with the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), a local political formation, joining it. The PWP, which was born out of the non-Brahmin movement in 1948, was once the principal Opposition in Maharashtra. Now, the party is restricted to Raigad district abutting Mumbai, Sangola in Solapur district, parts of Kolhapur district like Sangrul, and some pockets of Osmanabad like Tuljapur.

However, the PWP has a strong base in Raigad district, especially among communities like Aagris and Kolis, and the ability to influence the results in two Lok Sabha seats, namely Raigad and Maval. MLC Jayant Patil, who is general secretary of the PWP, attended the meeting in Mumbai. The PWP has one MLA in Maharashtra—former bureaucrat Shamsundar Shinde, who won from Loha in Nanded. However, Shinde has supported the ruling alliance.

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Edited By:

Aditya Mohan Wig

Published On:

Sep 4, 2023

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