If politics were to be the proverbial proscenium, Sharad Pawar would certainly occupy the director’s chair. Very few politicians have Mr Pawar’s ability to write and then tweak the political script. The Maratha strongman’s prodigious talents in this respect were on show, once again, when he resigned as the chief of the Nationalist Congress Party, only to rescind his decision later amidst attendant theatrics. The drama was, of course, informed by prudent politics. The NCP has been rocked by rumours that Mr Pawar’s nephew, perhaps unhappy with the fact that the party sceptre remains secure with his uncle, was getting restive and, hence, contemplating embracing the Bharatiya Janata Party. With his swift intervention and about-turn, Mr Pawar has wrested back the momentum, demonstrating that the loyalty of an overwhelming segment of the NCP remains with him. Any attempt by Ajit Pawar — the bad apple? — to desert the NCP now is likely to invite scorn from the rank and file.
Mr Pawar may have succeeded in dousing the family fire — but only for now. His political brinkmanship is likely to be tested severely by some unsavoury realities. For instance, much like other parties that have split from the Congress and then coalesced around a single, charismatic leader, the NCP is confronted with a piquant situation. It may have a second line of leadership but none of its members can, in a manner of speaking, fit Mr Pawar’s shoes. This heightens the possibility of an implosion if Mr Pawar is engaged otherwise, as is likely given his ambitions at the national level in 2024, or after his political retirement. A sensible succession plan should have been in place much earlier. But even here, there is likely to be more than one claimant from within the family; a bloody succession, therefore, cannot be ruled out. The potential turbulence is likely to have ripple effects regionally as well as in Delhi. The NCP is a critical lynchpin of the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition and splinters within the party would adversely affect its political prospects in the state. The Opposition’s attempts to club an alliance against the BJP would also suffer if Mr Pawar has to devote greater attention to his feuding family. It remains to be seen how he fights these multiple, overlapping challenges. Mr Pawar’s predicament bares a bitter truth that cuts across India’s political firmament: the pitfalls of the absence of the democratisation of political parties.