Barely a fortnight before resigning from the Maharashtra Cabinet,Ajit Pawar,speaking at a function to launch a book by Home Minister R R Patil,shocked many by pitching for Patils portfolio: Sometimes I too feel that I should head the home department,but Pichad (Madhukar Pichad,state NCP chief) and (Sharad) Pawar saheb do not give it to me.
Ajits style of politics has always been brash. At the September 13 book-launch event,held at the YB Chavan Centre in Mumbai,he had openly taken on the NCP leadership before an audience that included his bete noir and PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal,Rural Development Minister Jayant Patil and Tribal Development Minister Babanrao Pachpute,besides Pichad. Fortunately for Patil,he chose to remain absent. Had he been there,he would have been subjected to a 20-minute diatribe that Pawar launched against the book.
Ajit Pawar has always been known to be aggressive and ambitious. At 53,the junior Pawar,nephew of the 73-year-old NCP chief Sharad Pawar,is getting impatient too.
His decision to give up all his ministerial portfolios and resign as Deputy Chief Minister over accusations of irregularities in irrigation projects during his tenure as the Water Resources Minister was probably an instinctive one. But,as it happens in Maharashtra politics every couple of years,there has been a shift in power equations,and this time,it was Ajit who had effected a decisive shift.
This is a political gamble by Ajit to stick to his image as the dashing,decision-making,straight-forward leader who has control over the party organisation. With his show of strength,he has demonstrated that he has the support of most of the young MLAs. But now that he does not hold any position of power,time will tell if he can retain that support, says Dr Surendra Jondhale,head of Mumbai Universitys Political Science department.
Ajit Pawar,son of Sharad Pawars elder brother Anantrao,has charted a career graph similar to that of his uncles,rising through a firm grip on the sugar and dairy co-operatives and the district co-operative bank sector and by heading sports federations such as that of kabbadi and kho-kho. He headed various sugar factories and even the Maharashtra State Sugar Factories Federation during his early years in politicskey to the political growth of leaders in Maharashtra. He even headed the Maharashtra State Cooperatives Bank in 1998-99.
Ajits first foray into electoral politics was in 1991 when he won the parliamentary elections from Baramati. After serving a brief term of four months,he made way for uncle Sharad Pawar to be inducted in the PV Narsimha Rao government by vacating the seat.
Since then,Ajit has always been elected from the assembly constituency of Baramati. He began as Minister of State for Agriculture,Horticulture and Power in the Sudhakarrao Naik government in 1991-92,going on to become the Deputy Chief Minister in the present Congress-NCP government. The Baramati assembly constituency has been with the Pawar family since 1967,when Sharad Pawar was first elected from here.
Ajit,who considered himself the heir-apparent to the NCP chief,had been disturbed ever since Sharad Pawar selected his daughter Supriya Sule to contest the 2009 Parliament elections. Sule was elected from Baramati,a constituency which until then had been represented by Sharad Pawar who contested from the adjoining seat of Madha to accommodate his daughter in the family constituency.
It is well known that the senior Pawar had then hoped to see his 43-year-old daughter take over the partys reins at an appropriate time. But he soon realised that Sule would do better in Delhi and Ajit could strengthen the party in the state. That,Ajit thought,would help him carve out his turf.
But what agitated him was the senior Pawars support to Sules recent idea of launching the partys womens wing,the Rashtrawadi Yuvati Congress,to tap the states women voters. This,in many ways,again pitted Sule against Ajit in the state,allowing her to build a base without actually undercutting her cousin,who had over the last two decades steadily nurtured a worker base. But Sule,aware of the talk in media and political circles of the overlapping of the cousins turfs,said in Nashik that she would not accept any position in the Maharashtra government since she was working at the Centre.
Ajit was also upset that Sharad Pawar had not used his proximity to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to shield him from accusations of irregularities. Ajits supporters say the Chief Minister was responsible for the spate of stories related to the alleged irregularities in the irrigation department. Last weekend,Chavan had used harsh words while discussing corruption in irrigation projectsthat it seemed contractor-driven,something has gone wrong and that Rs 70,000 crore remained unspent.
The senior Pawar and Chief Minister Chavan share a good rapport. They have constantly been in touch. The fact that Ajit did not attend two recent meetings related to his ministries of power and finance,one with Veerappa Moily and the other with P Chidambaram,should have indicated that something was amiss, said a Congress minister.
Part of the current dispute stems from the fact that the co-operative sector in the state,to which the Pawars owe their career,is in doldrums. Six major co-operative banks in the state face cancellation of licences by this weekend if they do not comply with RBI norms. After two bailouts of close to Rs 100 crore in the last three years to the Nanded district bank and the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank,Chief Minister Chavan is not keen on doling out another package to these banks which are governed by politicians.
NCP and Congress leaders say Ajit wanted a bigger say in deciding the affairs of the party,including in allotting portfolios. In fact,he has been seeking the home portfolio for himself,currently being held by Sharad Pawar loyalist R R Patil.
Ajit may have resigned for now,but his eyes are set on the 2014 assembly elections. If the NCP emerges as the single-largest party,there is no doubt about whom Ajit wants in the Chief Ministers chairhimself.
The NCP was formed in 1999,when Sharad Pawar,P A Sangma and Tariq Anwar decided to part ways with the Congress over Sonia Gandhi’s foreign-origin issue. The party,which has 62 seats in the 173-strong Congress-led Democratic Alliance in the state,replicates the organisational structure of the Congress with state and district presidents and frontal organisations like separate wings for women,youth and students. Structurally and ideologically,there is very little that separates the NCP from the Congress. Regarded as a Maratha-dominated political party with a strong base in western Maharashtra,the NCP has been trying to expand to the rest of Maharashtra and emerge as a challenger to the Congress. With both parties preparing for the 2014 assembly elections,NCP is focused on increasing its tally to be in a position to command terms.
Sharad Pawar founded the NCP in 1999 after parting ways with the Congress on the issue of Sonia Gandhis foreign origin. In Maharashtra,where the NCP is in a coalition with the Congress,the Maratha leader has had to divide responsibilities between his nephew Ajit Pawar and daughter Supriya Sule.
Pawar made his foray into politics in 1982 when he was elected to a sugar co-operative body in Pune. He got elected as chairman of the Pune District Co-operative Bank (PDC) in 1991. He held this position for the next 16 years. He was elected to the Assembly in 1991 and appointed as minister of state for power and agriculture. In 1999,when the Democratic Front government was formed,Pawar was promoted to the rank of a cabinet minister and was given water resources portfolio. He held this portfolio till the cabinet reshuffle in 2010.
Sharad Pawars daughter is seen as the Gen-Next face of the NCP in Delhi. Though Pawar had at one point wanted his daughter to take over the partys reins in the state,he soon realised that Sule would do better at the Centre. A few months ago,she launched the partys womens wing,the Rashtrawadi Yuvati Congress,to tap the states women voters. This,in many ways,pitted Sule against Ajit Pawar in the state.
Praful Patel,vice president of NCP,has been a senior minister in the Union government for the last several years. He represents the Bhandhara-Gondia constituency in Vidarbha and has had his share of controversies regarding the crisis-ridden Air India. Among the richest MPs in Parliament,he is a close confidant of Sharad Pawar.
Chhagan Chandrakant Bhujbal,minister for public works and a staunch Sharad Pawar loyalist,is also a prominent OBC leader in the state.He joined Congress in 1993 and is one of the founding members of the NCP. He has been the deputy chief minister and home minister during the decade-long rule of the Democratic Front alliance but has been miffed at being sidelined. In 2009,Pawar Sr was keen to make Bhujbal deputy chief minister but was dissuaded after Ajit put up a show of strength giving support letters of MLAs. Bhujbal,whose name cropped up in the Telgi scam before being cleared,is not new to controversy. He has been accused of awarding contracts for the construction of the new Maharashtra Sadan to family and close associates.
R R PATIL
Home Minister R R Patil,known as Aba (father figure),has risen from the ranksstarting off as sarpanch of his native village,Anjani in Sangli district,to become the deputy chief minister and home minister for four years between 2004 and 2008. He was also twice the NCP president for Maharashtra in the last decade during the Assembly election years of 2004 and 2009. Hailing from a poor farmers family,Patil has a simple lifestyle,bears a clean image and does not even own a house in Mumbai. He travelled by train after he resigned in 2008. His statements after the 26/11 terror attack cost him his job. He is considered a staunch Sharad Pawar loyalist,and thats why he has been given the crucial home ministry.
Suave and tech savvy,Patil has held various portfolioshome and rural development and now,heads the finance portfolio that Ajit quit. He also hails from Sangli and has an internal tussle with R R Patil. He joined politics after his father died in 1984. He has been elected to the Assembly five times consecutively since 1990.
The top NCP leader from Raigad district has been associated with the Congress since the 1980s. Currently Minister for Water Resources,he has been accused of land grab,floating a web of fictitious companies to mask the land grab and irregularities in irrigation projects. A case regarding these allegations is pending in the Bombay High Court. He is a known Ajit Pawar supporter but is currently upset that he had to face flak for decisions taken during Pawars tenure as WR minister. He was also called to depose before the Adarsh Commissionhe was minister of state for urban development in the Vilasrao Deshmukh (October 1999-March 2002 and May 2002-June 2002) and Sushilkumar Shinde (January 2003-November 2004) governments.
The Minister for excise virtually has the last say when it comes to affairs of Navi Mumbai. He has travelled across the political spectrum in Maharashtra. He spent his early years with the Shiv Sena,but he has been associated with the NCP since its inception and was the guardian minister for Thane district. He was the group leader for Sena from 1993 to 1995.