Sharad Pawar has been chief minister of Maharashtra thrice, is a former Union agriculture minister, has fought and won 14 elections. Through it all, he has enjoyed a political profile larger than the numbers of the party he founded in 1999, the NCP, might suggest or support. So, when Pawar announces that he is hanging up his boots, electorally, that he will not, after all, contest from Madha constituency in Maharashtra, though he had said he would almost a month ago, it is not the moment to point out that he has changed his mind again. It is time, instead, to mark an important transition in the NCP, which, by all accounts, is not at ease with its own factions. And also, to listen to what Pawar himself is saying: He wants to bow out, he says, because already two members of his family, his daughter and grandnephew, are contesting polls and because “the intention is to give the youth an opportunity”. In stepping aside, in other words, because there are too many Pawars in the electoral fray, Sharad Pawar may only be acknowledging a long-running syndrome of Indian politics that is increasingly at odds with its overwhelmingly young and striving electorate.
It is a syndrome that afflicts not just the Congress — which is most often reviled for being in the grip of dynasty and which saw its newly appointed general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra address her first rally in Gujarat on Tuesday — but all parties across the political-ideological spectrum, those that call themselves national as well as the ones that are confined to specific states. Yet, the reality also is that in the upcoming political contest, “dynasty” is a card and weapon that works more to the advantage of the BJP, and casts an unhealthy pallor more on the outfits that make up the Mahagathbandhan to-be. The Narendra Modi-led BJP has achieved a measure of success in projecting the competition as one between entitlement and aspiration, “naamdaar” vs “kaamdaar”, and painting itself on the right side of the divide. It is hammering home the fact, of course, that Modi himself has no family members in politics and that the Congress president is a scion of the Gandhi parivar. In doing so, however, the BJP may also be tapping into a gathering restiveness in a young population of voters over what is perceived as a closed political system — in which opportunity is shrinking and there is growing inequality, power is monopolised by select families and public interest is held hostage to family agendas.
The upcoming Lok Sabha campaign, then, will also be watched for how parties, the BJP and the Congress, as also the other national and regional parties, address the concerns of the aam aadmi and aurat who is impatient for change and who perceives dynasty and its monopoly over power a part of the intolerable status quo. Sharad Pawar’s step back from the electoral contest carries a message, intended or not, that his colleagues in politics will do well to read.