The unease in Ajit Pawar’s NCP

May 21,2024

There seems to be some unease in the Ajit Pawar-led NCP with the elections that are concluding in Maharashtra. Party leaders are sceptical about the response their candidates got in the election though they are expecting a close fight in three out of the four seats the NCP contested--Baramati, Shirur and Raigad.

Party chief Ajit Pawar himself was camping in Pune district and paid maximum attention to Baramati, which became a prestige seat for him with his wife Sunetra contesting against NCP founder Sharad Pawar’s daughter and sitting MP Supriya Sule in the Pawar family’s bastion. As such, he did not leave Pune district during most of the campaigning. His aides do not have much hopes for Osmanabad where the party fielded Archana Patil, wife of local BJP MLA Rana Jagjitsinh Patil.

Most of the NCP leaders say a sympathy factor for senior Pawar was observed, especially in western Maharashtra. That coupled with the Maratha reservation issue could impact the election. If these two factors are strong, the Sharad Pawar faction would score over the nephew’s party, they feel. Some of the senior leaders are publicly speaking about it.

NCP minister Chhagan Bhujbal and Dilip Walse-Patil were seen talking to mediapersons about the sympathy factor though they opined that the same would not impact the outcome of the elections.

Bhujbal skipped BJP campaign rallies in Nashik and came down heavily on MNS chief Raj Thackeray who is now part of the ruling alliance. Before that, in an informal chat with mediapersons in Pune, Ajit Pawar commented that the remarks made by higher education minister Chandrakant Patil evoked negative reactions from the people in Baramati constituency.

Patil, in an internal meeting of party workers, had said that the BJP’s aim was to finish Pawar politically in the district. A video of Patil making this remark while snapping his fingers went viral.

Aijt Pawar felt it had not gone down well with the people in Pawar’s hometown. He even revealed that he had told ally BJP not to send Patil to campaign in Baramati. His absence from campaigning in the last phase of voting where his party was not contesting any seat raised many an eyebrow in the ruling camp. He also did not attend rallies addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Nashik and Kalyan as well as the PM’s roadshow in Mumbai. Chief minister Eknath Shinde and deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis accompanied the PM at these places.

Ajit’s colleagues said he had a throat infection. He finally appeared on the dais at Modi’s concluding rally in Shivaji Park. Needless to say, the reactions of top NCP leaders are being closely watched by allies and rivals.

Thackeray’s trusted aide to Varsha’s help

Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray has given the responsibility of ensuring the election of city Congress chief Varsha Gaikwad to his trusted aide, Anil Parab. The Congress was keen to field Gaikwad in Mumbai South Central constituency which includes her assembly segment, Dharavi. However, Thackeray insisted on contesting the election here and despite Congress demanding it repeatedly did not budge. This irked many leaders of Mumbai Congress.

CM Shinde-led Shiv Sena even alleged that Thackeray did not leave the seat for Varsha Gaikwad since she came from a Dalit community. Congress then fielded her from neighbouring Mumbai North Central constituency which it got in seat-sharing. Wary of the possibility that her defeat could be used by Shinde-led Sena to portray him as anti-Dalit and her support was important for his candidate Anil Desai in Mumbai South Central seat, Thackeray entrusted Parab with the responsibility of Gaikwad’s election.

Parab has been the party’s vibhag pramukh of the area and knows the area well. In 2019, the undivided Shiv Sena won three out of six assembly segments in Mumbai North Central though only one, Kalina MLA Sanjay Potnis, stayed with the Thackeray faction. Parab, who was credited with strategising Shiv Sena’s victory in 2017 Mumbai civic polls, is now using all his skills to ensure Gaikwad’s victory. BJP has made his task a tad difficult by fielding senior lawyer Ujjwal Nikam.

No manifesto

Chief minister Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena was the only party that did not declare its manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections. All other parties — its allies BJP and NCP as well as rivals Congress, Shiv Sena (UBT) and NCP (SP) have come out with their manifestos with various promises and stands on national issues. The Shinde-led Sena chose not to announce one. A party leader said that since it is a national election and they are part of NDA, they don’t need to have a separate manifesto. They will however have a proper manifesto for the assembly elections that would be held six months later.