Sharad Pawar on Tuesday announced his resignation as president of the Nationalist Congress Party and said the new generation should now guide the organisation, leaving most party leaders and workers shell-shocked.
While it’s almost unthinkable that the NCP will not be in Pawar’s control as long as he lives, it’s difficult to guess whether he has resigned under duress or whether he wants to settle the question of succession under his own supervision. It is well known that his nephew Ajit Pawar’s political ambitions have created tensions within the NCP.
While Ajit is not averse to joining hands with the BJP, Pawar and his daughter Supriya Sule prefer to stay in the secular camp. Many political observers have linked the timing of Pawar’s resignation to the lingering tensions within the family, wondering whether the wily veteran has made a pre-emptive strike to save his reputation.
Pawar has mentioned in his autobiography, which was released on Tuesday at the same event where he announced his resignation, that a lobby in the party wants to join hands with the BJP.
At the book release, where all the senior NCP leaders were present, the 82-year-old Pawar said: “After a long period in public life from May 1, 1960, to May 1, 2023, it is necessary to take a step back. It’s time for a new generation to guide the party. I recommend that a committee of NCP members decide on the election for the president’s post.”
Pawar announced the names of the members of the committee, indicating he had planned his move meticulously.
He tried to reassure party workers and leaders who responded emotionally to the announcement, many of them crying and pleading with Pawar to reconsider.
“I cannot forget that Maharashtra and all of you have given me strong support and love in the last six decades. I am going to be with you but not as the NCP chief. I am not retiring from active politics. I still have three years of my Rajya Sabha term left, and I will use this time for social work,” he said.
While most senior leaders such as Jayant Patil, Chhagan Bhujbal, Jitendra Ahwadand Dilip Walse Patil were in tears, asking Pawar to reverse his decision, Ajit was calm. He said the new president would work under Pawar’s guidance.
“The Congress has Mallikarjun Kharge as president but the party is run by Sonia Gandhi. Similarly, Pawar Sahib will be there to guide the NCP,” he said.
Ajit asked Sule not to pressure her father to continue, considering his age and health.
While the discourse in the NCP about Pawar’s successor revolves around Sule and Ajit, it won’t be easy for the veteran to hand over the reins to his daughter as his nephew controls the organisation and the loyalty of the majority among the MLAs.
If Pawar decides to install his daughter at the helm, he will have to risk a rebellion by his nephew.
That Ajit has no ideological antipathy towards the BJP is known: there’s evidence in the form of his early morning oath-taking with Devendra Fadnavis, a plot that Pawar Sr demolished.
The speculation about another coup by the nephew hasn’t died down although he recently vowed to remain in the NCP all his life. With the NCP under his formal command, it may become difficult for the uncle to rein him in.
Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole said the NCP’s internal developments won’t affect the Opposition alliance. The Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut hinted that ugly machinations may have dismayed Pawar.
He recalled how Balasaheb Thackeray had got frustrated at conspiracies and false allegations and resigned, but had to revoke the decision under pressure from Shiv Sainiks. He hoped Pawar too would take back his resignation.
But Pawar is unlikely to traverse that path. Sule had exactly 15 days ago hinted at “two big political explosions”, one in Maharashtra and the other in Delhi, indicating she was aware of his father’s thinking.
The Congress-NCP-Sena (Uddhav Thackeray) coalition was shaping up extremely well with several massive rallies across the state. This must have caused serious concern in the BJP.
Now the churning in the NCP is bound to trigger concern in the Opposition alliance until the new line-up in the party becomes clear and settled.