Ajit Pawar: The third wheel of the family rolls on, and on – The Indian Express

In November 2010, when the alleged Adarsh scam hit the Maharashtra government, forcing the Congress high command to replace its then Chief Minister, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) mulled over whether to continue with Chhagan Bhujbal as Deputy CM. But an overwhelming majority of NCP MLAs voiced support for Ajit, marking the beginning of the first of his four tenures as Maharashtra Deputy CM.
As Ajit again finds himself in the spotlight following Devendra Fadnavis’s remarks harking back to his short-lived rebellion of 2019 within the NCP, it is this support of MLAs that might stand him in good stead.
Known for his slightly brusque but extremely efficient way of functioning — which his supporters say “gets things done” — Ajit has had that support since 1999, when the NCP was formed. Even when the tripartite Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) collapsed, he was chosen as the Leader of Opposition, with the memory of 2019 put behind by the party.
A seven-time MLA, Ajit also can count on the support of his voters, winning Baramati consistently since 1991. In 2019, he was victorious by a margin of 1.65 lakh votes.
But, despite all this, Ajit has not been able to grab the top post in Mantralaya. His uncle Sharad Pawar has been the Maharashtra CM four times, the same number of times Ajit has been Deputy CM. Ajit has also handled many important departments in the government such as Agriculture, Soil Conservation, Water Resources, power, Finance and Planning. Many within the political circles blame this “lack of growth” on the senior Pawar, but Ajit himself has never uttered a word against his uncle in his political career spanning 40 years.
In his remarks on Monday, Fadnavis claimed that when in 2019 he and Ajit took oath in an early morning swearing-in ceremony as CM and Deputy CM, it was with the sanction of Sharad Pawar. This was denied by the NCP and Pawar Senior, who have claimed that Ajit’s doings had nothing to do with them. Ajit has himself never offered an explanation of the midnight episode.
The remarks are damaging for Ajit as he has been struggling to dispel the impression that he is soft on Fadnavis, since the formation of the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra. His constant attacks on the Shinde faction and allegations against its ministers are seen as a reflection of the same.
The remarks also drag Ajit further under the shadow of his uncle, which he has not been able to shed completely despite his own support base. Two months prior to the 2019 Assembly polls, he had even announced he was quitting politics citing the Enforcement Directorate move against Sharad Pawar.
Within the Pawar family, the responsibilities of each individual are fixed, and meant to be followed. Pawar Senior rarely comments or interferes in state-related political and organisational matters, and comes into the picture only in the case of big events. Ajit does not speak on national issues, and makes it a point that he should be asked questions about the Assembly and state politics. Supriya Sule, who represents the Baramati Lok Sabha constituency, limits herself to her seat when it comes to handling political issues. During her Town Hall session with The Indian Express last month, when asked whether she aims at becoming first woman Chief Minister of Maharashtra, she categorically mentioned that she is happy with the work she was doing in the Lok Sabha.
The Pawar kin do not cross each other’s paths in public, nor contradicted each other.
However, Ajit has several times crossed that line when it comes to several seniors. For example, how he put his weight behind the late R R Patil in 2004 to be appointed as the Deputy CM, above seniors such as Chhagan Bhujbal and Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil. In 2019, he ensured a Lok Sabha ticket for his son Parth, despite opposition within, from Maval LS constituency. Parth lost, and Ajit faced a massive loss of face.
Plus, there are the allegations that keep Ajit on the back foot. In 2012, he resigned as deputy CM over allegations of scam in irrigation projects, he has also faced allegations regarding cooperative banks and sugar factories. In fact, in the three days of the Fadnavis-Pawar government, the Anti Corruption Bureau was said to have given clean chit to Ajit in the irrigation scam.
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Alok DeshpandeAlok is a Special Correspondent with the The Indian Express' Mumbai bu… read more


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