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Infighting, high-stakes battle: what led to Sharad Pawar opting out

The announcement on Monday marks another U-turn for Sharad Pawar who had, a month ago, said that he might consider contesting from Madha since many of his supporters wanted him to do so.

Written by Manoj Dattatrye More | Pune | Updated: March 13, 2019 8:03:46 pm
sharad pawar, sharad pawar quits elections, ncp, maharashtra elections, lok sabha, lok sabha 2019, lok sabha 2019 date, lok sabha election, election news, election commission, EC, general elections 2019, elections 2019, lok sabha election date, lok sabha election 2019 date, lok sabha election 2019 schedule Sharad Pawar in Pune on Monday after announcing his decision to not contest the Lok Sabha elections. (Express photo by Pavan Khengre)

On Monday, after a meeting with party leaders at Baramati Hostel in Pune, NCP chief Sharad Pawar announced that he would not contest the Lok Sabha election. The announcement comes after intense speculation, some of it fuelled by Pawar himself, on whether he would contest what’s considered a crucial battle for the NCP and its chief, the veteran of 14 successful electoral contests.

The announcement on Monday marks another U-turn for Pawar who had, a month ago, said that he might consider contesting from Madha since many of his supporters wanted him to do so.

Pawar, who has never lost an election since he began contesting in 1967, last stood — and won — an election in 2009. In the Lok Sabha election that year, he won by a margin of 3.14 lakh votes from Madha. But three years later, in 2012, the seven-time MP announced his retirement from electoral politics and didn’t contest the 2014 general election. In his absence, NCP’s Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil won the elections from Madha. In 2014, Pawar was elected to the Rajya Sabha — he has about two years left of his term. Click here for more election news

While various theories are being propounded for why the battle-hardened Pawar opted out, sources say infighting within the party may have prompted his decision.

Read: The 29-year-old for whom veteran Sharad Pawar made way

Last month, after the NCP decided to field Pawar from Madha, he went to the constituency to address a rally. At the rally in Phaltan, Madha, two factions of the party indulged in a verbal spat as Pawar watched in disbelief. As all his efforts to calm down the squabbling leaders failed, the incident turned out to be a major embarrassment for Pawar. Sources say that the NCP chief realised that if he failed to bring the warring factions together, he would have to sweat it out in his constituency, which, they say, would not be in the party’s interest as he was the star campaigner for the party and also for the alliance partner, the Congress, in all 48 constituencies of the state.

At Monday’s press conference, Pawar had tried to explain that his decision was not prompted by his fear of losing from Madha — “I have contested 14 elections (including Assembly) and have never lost. I have never been anxious in all these elections and there is no reason why I should be now.” Sources in the party, however, say that while there is no question of Pawar losing, in an election where the stakes are high for Opposition parties and for Pawar, whom the NCP sees as a potential PM contender, the party can’t afford even a reduced victory margin for Pawar.

Sources say that NCP leaders close to Pawar, along with members of his family, reminded him that his daughter Supriya Sule has already been put under pressure by the BJP, which has declared its intention to “capture” Baramati seat, the seat she represents in the Lok Sabha. Mahadeo Jankar of the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha, an NDA ally, who had given Supriya Sule a tough fight in 2014 and brought down her victory margin by nearly 2.5 lakh votes, has once again declared that he would contest from Baramati. Thus, party sources say, Pawar can’t be limited to Madha and will have to be available to take on the BJP elsewhere.

“A reduced margin of victory in Madha or for that matter in Baramati will hit the morale of NCP cadres who rely heavily on the Pawar family,” said an NCP leader.

In all the Lok Sabha elections he has contested, Pawar has won by comfortable margins of over two lakh or more.

Another factor that may have influenced Pawar’s decision is his Rajya Sabha term. If he had contested and won the Lok Sabha election, Pawar would have to resign his RS seat 15 days later. Party sources say it was Rahul Gandhi who told Pawar that it was not wise to lose a key RS seat as the Opposition strength was already going down in the Upper House.

NCP MP Vandana Chavan admitted that the consideration over the Rajya Sabha seat could have indeed played a role in his withdrawal from the poll fray. “When (Pawar) still has two years to go, I think there was no reason for him to contest the Lok Sabha elections,” she said.

Besides, Pawar’s health is also a matter of concern. At a function in Pune last month, Pawar said he was suffering from “three ailments”, before adding that his illnesses did not deter him from putting in his best efforts.

Which is probably why, despite the NCP saying Pawar would contest from Madha, Pawar himself never declared he was contesting. When he arrived in Madha last month, he merely said, “Don’t worry about Madha…I will take care of it.”

Family pressure and disagreements are also being cited as one of the reasons for Pawar’s withdrawal from the race. With his nephew Ajit Pawar keen to field his son Parth from Maval, on Tuesday, Rohit Pawar, son of Ajit’s elder brother Rajendra Pawar, for the first time said there was no dispute as he was not interested in contesting the Lok Sabha elections. “I will contest the Assembly election while Parth will contest the Lok Sabha elections,” he said.

The BJP, however, sees Pawar’s withdrawal from the race as an admission of its strength. “Pawar’s withdrawal is not only a personal defeat, but a moral defeat. We were gearing up to corner him,” said BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari.

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