New political equations have begun to emerge in Maharashtra, which will not only shape the election scenario of 2014, but also the post-Sharad Pawar power configuration in the state. Interestingly, the salvo has been fired by Sharad Pawar’s nephew, Ajit Pawar, and though it may not be an all-out rebellion within the Nationalist Congress Party, it has changed the power structure within it, as well as in the Congress-NCP front.
A compromise between the uncle and the nephew is unlikely. Sooner rather than later, Ajit will chart his own course of action, and the NCP rank and file will either have to follow him or get marginalised. It is a struggle of sorts between the old guard and the impatient young turks. It is equivalent, though not directly comparable to the struggle between the “syndicate” and Indira Gandhi in the Congress in 1969. A majority of NCP MLAs in the state assembly are with Ajit, and not with the Sharad Pawar-led old guard.
The question most asked is why Ajit chose this moment to strike. The reason is rather obvious, though a tad obscured. It is the election of 2014. The spectre of defeat and possible oblivion is haunting both Congresses. It is not as if the Sena-BJP alliance is healthy, certainly not after the breakaway formation of Raj Thackeray’s Navnirman Sena. But the chaotic, uncertain nature of the assembly in 2014 could either delay or destroy the chances of Ajit becoming CM. He is focused on that.
Indeed, Ajit is a very focused man. He does not tolerate diversions. He, unlike his uncle, has no extra-curricular interests. Cricket, arts or literature don’t interest him. He has followers, not friends. He is a teetotaller and does not party, gossip, or have long sessions with mediapersons or party workers. Ajit cannot converse beyond the subject in discussion, and is not ostentatious, though, when abroad, he is known to splurge in shopping. Ajit is curt and laconic, dealing mostly with “yes”, “no”, “will do” or simply “not possible”. He is not a man with shades of grey. Unlike his uncle, he has only two shades—black and white.
If he had not asserted himself now, Ajit would have remained in the shadow of Sharad Pawar for the rest of his career. So, he chose not to even discuss his resignation with the Boss. He only informed him, with a note that he won’t retract it. He did not consult the NCP state president, nor the ideologue D.P. Tripathi. He announced his move so firmly, dramatically even, that in one stroke it changed the discourse from allegations of corruption to an assertion of position.
Initially, the media misread the announcement as a sort of confrontation with CM Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress, who is under tremendous pressure from his own party and the NCP to “act or quit”. Thus the media’s obvious interpretation that it was a challenge thrown at Chavan. But soon it was realised that Ajit was throwing down the gauntlet at Sharad Pawar. Ajit is not a strategist like his uncle. He is not calculating, nor does he keep all options open. He is spontaneous. The media, used to the ambivalent “games” of politicians, were stumped by Ajit’s surprise “shock and awe” move. The obvious conclusion was that he was countering the allegations of corruption by changing the parameters of the discourse. Actually, he was just defiant and wanted to make it clear to all that he did not want to be “junior” or “deputy” to anybody. Neither deputy chief minister nor “junior Pawar”. He sees himself as number one and was fed up for quite some time being second fiddle in the party and government.
Indeed, if Ajit tours Maharashtra now in campaign mode, particularly the western parts, with meetings and marches, he can mobilise massive crowds. He may not yet generate a wave, but will surely carve out a niche for himself. He may not formally split the party, he may simply hijack it, or quietly and “respectfully” marginalise the boss. Ajit will make it certain that the NCP reinvents itself under his leadership. Even as it is, the party has little raison d’etre, except for totally irrelevant stands such as the one on Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin. For some time now, NCP members have been nervous about the party’s future after Sharad Pawar. Ajit has offered them an agency—a youthful identity, focus and freedom from the old guard. Though all this does not absolve him of the allegations of corruption, it empowers him to forge a new equation with the Congress, and, if need be, even with the opposition. Who knows, for arithmetical purposes, Ajit could align himself even with Raj Thackeray’s mns. This hypothesis will be laughed at now, but then, Maharashtra politics for the last two decades can be seen either as farce or as black comedy.
(Kumar Ketkar is editor-in-chief of Divya Marathi)