Of the 75-odd ‘Halla Bol’ rallies held so far in the state, from Vidarbha to western Maharashtra, NCP leader and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar has been at the forefront of most of them. He has held forth in least 70 of them, relegating even party supremo Sharad Pawar, known for his tireless campaigns, to the shadows.
Though it is not quite election time yet, Pawar has remained the “star campaigner” of the party, with the crowd waiting patiently for hours to listen to him. Small wonder then the party has already anointed him as the next chief minister.
“Every party does that… this is nothing new… he is one of the our most popular mass leaders and the party is looking at him to be the next chief minister,” said NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik. On Tuesday, Supriya Sule, NCP MP and party chief Sharad Pawar’s daughter, appealed to the crowd at a rally in Shirur, “Remember, we have to make Ajit Pawar the next chief minister. Don’t just sit around… spread the word about NCP’s ideologies and Ajitdada’s capabilities as an administrator.”
In fact, Sule herself is considered by many as the chief minister in waiting, but seems content to take a step back, with her dada in the limelight. NCP spokesperson Sanjay Tatkare said, “It is true that the party is projecting Ajitdada as the next chief minister. It all started after Supriya made the call at a rally in Shirur on Tuesday.”
At every ‘Halla Bol’ rally, NCP leaders like Dhananjay Munde, Jayant Patil, Chitra Wagh and Shashikant Shinde give a call to strengthen the hands of Ajit Pawar. At a rally in Junnar on Tuesday and Kamshet on Wednesday, Sule emphasised that Ajit Pawar will be the next chief minister.
“Only Ajitdada can provide an effective administration,” she said. At a rally in Bhosari on Tuesday, Wagh declared, “Ajit Pawar aage badho, hum tumhare saath hain…” triggering loud applause from the gathering. While the ‘Halla bol’ agitation is aimed at highlighting the “failures” of the state and central governments, the rallies seem to belong to a NCP election campaign.
Huge cut-outs of Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar don the stage while other leaders adorn the margins of the shamiana, erected to protect people from the harsh sun. The leaders speak and make their points, and these points are highlighted on a giant screen through a pre-recorded presentation.
At one rally, when Jayant Patil ridiculed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign promise of depositing Rs 15 lakh in every citizen’s account, the screen played out a TV interview of BJP president Amit Shah, where he calls the promise an “election jumla.”
It is played and replayed on the screen for a larger effect on the gathering. The rally takes off with junior leaders in the party, with each one of them getting less than 10 minutes to speak. If he or she exceeds the time limit, someone walks up to the microphone to convey the message that they need to wind up. But when it comes to Ajit Pawar, he delivers a no-holds barred speech. He is scathing in his attacks on the Fadnavis government over its “failure” on various fronts.
He does not spare the Modi government either over decisions such as demonetisation and GST. And he is quick to claim that he was an able administrator when he was in charge. “When I was the deputy chief minister, there was no violence in Koregaon Bhima though lakhs gathered there every year. We handled the situation much better than the present government…we would never have allowed such a thing to happen. This government has no idea how to prevent such dangerous situations, which create a divide in the society,” he said.
The party, however, doesn’t mention anything about an alliance with the Congress, its long-time partner in the state. “It is our party’s programme. We are propogating our own ideology, plans and policies. We have nothing against the Congress. Every party is free to campaign the way it wants,” said Malik. Ajit Pawar, though, has his own hurdles to overcome, as he is facing allegations about a scam in irrigation projects during his tenure.
“We are not worried, Ajitdada will emerge unscathed…,” said a party leader. The BJP, meanwhile, dismissed NCP’s ‘Halla Bol’ and its bid to project Ajit Pawar as the next chief minister. “There can never be any comparison between Ajit Pawar and Devendra Fadnavis. The people of Maharashtra know the credentials of the Chief Minister and where Ajit Pawar stands in comparison,” said BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari.
On the NCP’s sustained attacks on the “failures” of the BJP government, Bhandari said, “It is not a ‘Halla Bol’ agitation, but a ‘Dalla Mar’ agitation. For 15 years, they looted public money and now they are feeling restless after being out of power for four years.”