As NCP supremo Sharad Pawar is completing 50 years in politics, his party has planned a string of events across Maharashtra and other parts of the country to celebrate his eventful career which saw his rise from the grassroots to prominent state and national slots. Yashvantrao Chavan Pratishthan, headed by his daughter Supriya Sule (47), is holding events in February at Pune and Mumbai to mark the anniversary.
The period had witnessed many changes in politics of the nation, including major splits in Congress, in some of which the 76-year-old leader himself played a central role.
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The “Maratha Strongman”, as he is often referred to by friends and rivals, plunged into politics as a grassroots worker in home turf Baramati in western Maharashtra in 1960s, and grew up under the tutelage of the late Y B Chavan.
A hub of co-operatives which are crucial in the state politics, western Maharashtra has always been a fertile ground for youngsters to learn the ropes in politics.
A player for all seasons, his name has since then been synonymous with power politics, both in Maharashtra and at the Centre.
After his first election to the Maharashtra Assembly in 1967, Pawar has never lost any electoral contest, a feat which has eluded many of his contemporaries.
After scoring his maiden victory, young Pawar was inducted as a junior minister. He was elevated to the Cabinet rank and over the years held several key portfolios in the state. In 1978, he became the youngest Chief Minister of Maharashtra at 38, a post at which he had three more stints.
Pawar, who floated a separate outfit after breaking away from Congress, called Congress (S), returned to the parent party in 1986 at an event in Aurangabad in presence of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Since his maiden Lok Sabha poll victory in 1984, Pawar has remained a key player in national politics. His prime ministerial ambitions, however, were cut short as Congress chose P V Narasimha Rao for the post, after the elections that followed the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991.
Industrialist Rahul Bajaj put it succintly, during an event in Delhi to celebrate Pawar’s 75th birthday, saying the Maratha strongman was the “best PM the country never had”.
During the NDA regime, Pawar headed the joint parliamentary committee probing higher amount of pesticide content in soft drinks in 2003.
Pawar has always maintained cordial relations with leaders cutting across political divides, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and many top leaders from the left, right and the centre.
In 1991, Pawar became Defence Minister in the Narasimha Rao Cabinet. He faced allegations of diverting defence land to builders. He was also accused of ferrying alleged aides of Dawood Ibrahim in his official plane.
During Pawar’s last stint as Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mumbai was rocked by serial bomb blasts in March, 1993 followed by the Gowari stampede in 1994 in Nagpur.
After parting ways with Sonia Gandhi over the foreign origin issue, Pawar in 1999 formed the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). His party, however, struck alliance with Congress and ruled Maharashtra for 15 years till the BJP-led government came to power in 2014.
In 2014, Pawar got elected to the Rajya Sabha, enabling his daughter Supriya to contest from his Baramati Lok Sabha seat.
Pawar has also occupied key positions on the cricket board, including that of BCCI and ICC President, besides other sports associations.
As the veteran politician is set to complete half a century of public life, the question being asked is who will be his political heir.
The query was recently put to none other than Supriya, an NCP MP, and pat came the reply “time will decide”.
“For Yashwantrao Chavan (first Chief Minister of Maharashtra), Pawarsaheb was his ‘manasputra’ (political heir). However, time will decide who will be his (Pawar’s) political heir in future,” Supriya added.