The Other Pawar: Sunetra Pawar's Introduction To The Electoral Ring

Sunetra was NCP’s candidate backed by the BJP-led NDA government for the Baramati seat against her sister-in-law Supriya Sule.

Sunetra Pawar Photo: X

With more than half of her family involved in political affairs, Sunetra Pawar consciously avoided politics, instead choosing to dedicate herself towards social and environmental causes. Behind her stately demeanour, she let her other identities take precedence: as a wife of Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, daughter-in-law of National Congress Party founder Sharad Pawar, sister-in-law of Member of Parliament Supriya Sule, sister of former MP Padamsinh Bajirao Patil and mother of Parth and Jay Pawar.  

 But two months ago, she found herself in a political frenzy, which overnight threw her in the middle of an unlikely contest, against her own family. Politics had chosen her. 

 Last year, Ajit Pawar broke away from the NCP, taking most of the winning MLAs, and joined the BJP-Shiv Sena ruling alliance. The NCP headed by his uncle Sharad Pawar was splintered into two factions. Ajit Pawar named Sunetra as NCP’s candidate backed by the BJP-led NDA government for the Baramati seat against her sister-in-law Supriya Sule. Days later, the Economic Offences Wing dropped charges against her and cleared her name from the Maharashtra State Co-operative Bank scam. 

In Baramati where she is popularly addressed as Vahini (sister-in-law), no one least of all Sunetra herself, imagined getting entangled in the Lok Sabha polls as a candidate. Until 2019, she travelled across the length and breadth of Baramati campaigning for Sule. Cut to 2024, Sunetra was making the rounds of the same villages, appealing to the villagers to choose her over Sule.  

Hailing from the royal Patil family of Osmanabad (Dharashiv), Sunetra grew up in the bustling environs of a socially and politically influential household. She joined the Pawar household --Baramati’s leading political family, after her marriage to Ajit Pawar in 1985.  

  While the uncle and nephew pair busied themselves in party politics and winning elections, the young Sunetra was shocked to see the filthy and unsanitary conditions of the family’s ancestral village of Kathewadi. Men and children lined up at the village’s entrance to defecate in the mornings while the women woke up at dawn to relieve themselves in the shrubs.

 The houses had no toilets, and the village was filled with swamp and stink. Kathewadi’s villagers vividly remember the days when Sunetra decided to undertake a clean-up drive and took a broom in her hands to clear the excrement. Moved with her drive and dedication to making Kathewadi clean the rest of the village joined her with brooms and began to build toilets at home. The central government in 2006 awarded Kathewadi with the Nirmal Gram status for eradicating open defecation.  

 She founded the Environmental Forum of India, an NGO in Baramati in 2009 to encourage environmental conservation through local community participation. Both Ajit and Sunetra are passionate tree lovers and pay personal attention to building public green spaces. 

As Baramati went to polls on May 7, locals were faced with the hard choice of voting between Supriya Tai (sister) or Sunetra Vahini. Ironically, Sunetra’s election symbol was the iconic ‘clock’ symbol that once belonged to Sharad Pawar’s NCP but was now owned by Ajit Pawar faction. Whether she wins or loses, Sunetra believes she has done her duty as a wife by standing alongside her husband’s decision. Time will tell.