Ajit Pawar seemed to have brought the curtains down on Saturday on his association with the NCP, by dramatically breaking away from family, dynasty and the political legacy of his uncle Sharad Pawar to chart an independent course as an ally of the BJP.
While Ajit is embracing a strategy remarkably similar to the one used by Pawar, who had rebelled against his mentor Vasantdada Patil to form his own government in the 70s, the similarity between the two ends there. Unlike the popular Pawar Senior, the nephew is known as much for his brusque style of functioning and short temper, as for his ambition to one day come out of the NCP chief’s shadow.
This is the second time Ajit has become Deputy CM, having earlier held the post in the Congress-NCP coalition from 2010-14.
Like the rest of the Pawar family, Ajit, the son of Pawar’s elder brother Anantrao, rose in politics through the cooperative sector. By Pawar’s side since 1991-92, he had fancied himself as heir apparent after Pawar broke away from the Congress to form the NCP. It was Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule’s entry into politics in the 2009 polls that first led to speculation about unease within the NCP first family.
Another irritant for the Ajit camp was the entry of Pawar’s grandnephew Rohit Pawar into politics — he won in the recent Assembly polls.
This isn’t the first time Ajit has left the NCP stunned. In 2004, he had publicly differed with the party leadership’s decision to concede the chief ministership to the Congress despite emerging as the single largest party. And in 2012, he had suddenly resigned as Deputy CM over accusations of irregularities in irrigation projects during his tenure as the Water Resources Minister, putting the Congress government into a crisis as other NCP ministers threatened to follow suit. Pawar Senior had stepped in to save the government.
Weeks before the Assembly polls, Ajit had broken down in public over the Enforcement Directorate naming him and Pawar in a money laundering case, claiming he was hurt, resigning as MLA and going incommunicado.
Pawar’s decision to step back from contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was said to have stemmed from Ajit’s insistence on fielding his son, Parth, from Maval. Parth’s loss is believed to have added to the bad blood.
What may have given Ajit the courage to finally break away was the fact that he won in the recent polls — his sixth straight victory as MLA — with the largest victory margin. Among the leaders who quit the NCP to join the BJP ahead of the Assembly polls was a close relative of Ajit, Rana Ranjitsingh.