Sharad Pawar, 79, who chiefs the Nationalist Congress Party or NCP, managed the rare feat of outwitting rival BJP as he was accused of money-laundering. Pawar is a veteran of old-school politics and used his experience and connections to establish his strength.
Just ahead of the election in his home state of Maharashtra, Pawar became the recipient four days ago of a notice from the Enforcement Directorate (ED), now customary for rivals of the BJP. In protest, the NCP hit the streets in Mumbai (not on Twitter, the chosen demonstration site of most of the opposition these days).
A panicked ED sent an email to Pawar saying it was in no hurry to see him. An unmoved Pawar said he wanted to help with the investigation and would arrive on Friday afternoon at its office. A public appeal against this from the Mumbai Police Commissioner citing law and order saw Pawar graciously postponing his date with the ED. Meanwhile, the BJP's ally, the Shiv Sena, publicly threw in support of Pawar and spoke against "vendetta politics". The Sena said that the ED had given the beleaguered opposition a "life line ahead of the Maharashtra polls".
By last evening, the score read Pawar 1, BJP 0. Yet before Pawar, described by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his "political guru" could reflect on the day's play, the BJP hit back.
Ajit Pawar, who is Sharad's nephew, his deputy in the party and is also named in the ED case, resigned as state legislator or MLA from his Baramati seat and went incommunicado. Nephew Pawar, a five-time legislator, also refused to speak to his uncle. And just like that, the big fight in the Pawar family was out in the open, helped along by the BJP. In a flimsy attempt at damage control, Pawar said that his nephew, the former Deputy Chief Minister is Maharashtra, had taken so much to heart the vendetta against his uncle that he had decided to quit politics and return to his farming and other businesses
As Pawar desperately tried to present a united front, Parth Pawar, Ajit's son, disputed these claims and said that his father in not quitting politics. Parth added a twist saying his father had warned him against entering politics as it was a "dirty business". The Pawar versus Pawar battle is being assiduously forwarded by senior BJP leaders who are in touch in Ajit Pawar. The real matter that Nephew Pawar has taken to heart is the war of succession within their party.
Sources say that nephew and uncle have not spoken to each other for nearly six months and Ajit was upset that the NCP made an all-out bid to project Pawar as a clean leader wrongly accused in the ED'a case but extended no part of this campaign to him. As Pawar spent Thursday surrounded by the NCP's core group and personally monitored the NCP's public demonstrations in Mumbai, Ajit was conspicuous by his absence. Pawar reached out to the Congress and other opposition leaders and ensured that former Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted in his support. Pawar also spoke to Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. No public mention was made of Ajit Pawar by any opposition leader while extending support to the NCP boss.
Pawar has gone public saying this will be his last election; in the background are huge differences in the Pawar family. Earlier Ajit was his choice as successor. But Ajit's many blunt and brash comments upset his uncle. Meanwhile, Pawar's only daughter, Supriya Sule, has been growing in politics. While a united front of public bonhomie was presented, the strains were evident. Now, the entry of Rohit Pawar Sharad' grand nephew, into politics has upset Ajit. The Shiv Sena mouthpiece "Saamana" recently praised Rohit and his attack on Amit Shah.
As the Maharashtra election nears, politics as a family business is very much in the foreground. The Sena, for example, has settled for being junior partner in the alliance with the BJP on the condition that chief Uddhav Thackeray's son Aditya Thackeray, as first reported by me for NDTV, is given the prize of Deputy Chief Minister. Meanwhile, the BJP, as ever, is shrewdly alert. With Pawar showing signs of a bounce, it ensured Ajit Pawar's timely resignation.
Now it's over to Pawar who is fighting the biggest battle of his life. As he often likes to boast, he has never personally lost an election. And this family battle is very personal.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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