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The angry young brigade of Sharad ‘Mr Congeniality’ Pawar

A section within the NCP suspects a BJP hand in the attacks on Pawar, as he is seen to be the main factor in the BJP not forming the government in Maharashtra after the 2019 Assembly elections.

Written by Shubhangi Khapre | Mumbai |
Updated: May 16, 2022 3:30:47 pm
In the recent past, the Maharashtra government in which Pawar's party NCP has a commanding presence has cracked down on any criticism of its supremo. (File photo)

With 60 years in public life, Sharad Pawar is the grand old man of Indian politics, with friends across parties and few permanent enemies. The 81-year-old has often been talked about as the prime minister whom India could do with, and the kind of unflappable leader who wouldn’t let a criticism or two affect him.

Not lately though.

In the recent past, the Maharashtra government in which Pawar’s party NCP has a commanding presence has cracked down on any criticism of its supremo. When protesting state road transportation employees barged into his house, more than 100 were rounded up and either arrested or detained. An advocate representing them was arrested and spent 18 days in jail. On Friday, two individuals were booked and arrested for comments they had put up on social media seen as directed against the NCP chief.

Some attribute this overzealousness to the fact that the NCP holds the Home portfolio in the MVA coalition government. Even Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut commented on how police had been quick to act in cases involving NCP leaders compared to the Sena’s. Others see in the muscle-flexing a bid to reassert the NCP’s position in the coalition vis-a-vis the Sena, which makes no bones about taking criticism of the Thackerays lightly.

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Such was the outpouring of outrage against a little-known Marathi actor, Ketaki Chitale (29), and a pharmaceutical student, all of 21, Nikhil Bhamre, over social media statements seemingly directed at Pawar that NCP leaders competed with each other in filing complaints. The two now face cases in several police stations.

Top NCP leaders also weighed in. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said, “I think the actor (Chitale) needs to get her mental check-up done.” Another NCP minister, Jeetendra Awadh, said: “The stern action was needed to stem the rot which has made deep inroads in our society… This is part of the devious design of the right wing, who subscribe to the ideology of hatred, communalism and casteism.”

An insider in the NCP , backed by others, says: “Ideally, left to Sharad Pawar, he would not even take cognizance of such critics. He has digested far more serious charges and criticism in the past, including a BJP campaign linking him to Dawood Ibrahim.”

According to the NCP leader, the young generation in the party, however, feels differently. They want police to “teach such social media activists a lesson”.

Says an NCP leader, “If we don’t take a serious note, attacks on our leaders through social media will multiply. We cannot forgive and forget. It harms our party and leader’s image.”

There are some who give the example of the Sena. When Independent MLA Ravi Rana and his MP wife Navneet Rana announced that they would chant Hanuman Chalisa outside the Thackeray residence as part of protest against azaan in mosques, they were arrested and sedition charges were invoked against them.

A section within the NCP suspects a BJP hand in the attacks on Pawar, as he is seen to be the main factor in the BJP not forming the government in Maharashtra after the 2019 Assembly elections. He is also seen as the glue holding the MVA together despite the differences between the Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena.

In 2019, when few even in the Opposition had expected to oust the BJP, Pawar was seen to have changed the course of the polls with one speech at a public rally in Satara through pouring rain. Pawar was also instrumental in wooing the Sena over, out of the BJP fold.

Incidentally, in this age of sharply polarised parties, among those who strongly criticised the attack on Pawar on social media was former BJP CM Devendra Fadnavis. In the midst of his war of words with the Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, Fadnavis said, regarding the comments on Pawar, “There is a growing trend of use of bad language in social media. There should be some restraint. I am sure law will take its own course.”

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