Mumbai: Since 1967, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, 78, has been in the electoral fray, either at the state or the Centre, barring the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. A four-time Maharashtra chief minister, Pawar has never lost a single election and has even eyed the elusive prime minister’s post.
On Monday, Pawar announced that he will not contest the Lok Sabha elections this time to make way for his grand-nephew, Parth Pawar, to enter electoral politics. This, despite having shown interest in contesting from the Madha constituency, considered an NCP stronghold, in Maharashtra’s Solapur district.
For the Maratha strongman, seen as a key interlocutor for a united opposition alliance, the announcement perhaps marks the end of the road in what was arguably his last roll of the dice to be politically significant in Delhi.
The four-time CM
Over 50 years, Pawar contested 14 elections, all except one from the Baramati constituency.
His half-century innings in electoral politics began when Pawar, known to be the protégé of Maharashtra’s first CM Yashwantrao Balwantrao Chavan, won the state assembly election from Baramati in western Maharashtra, his home turf.
He continued in state politics till 1984, during which time he served as the Maharashtra chief minister for the first time in 1978. At the time, Pawar had broken away from the Congress government as his Congress (S) joined hands with the Janata Party. He was the state’s youngest chief minister at the age of 38.
In 1984, he contested the Lok Sabha elections for the first time from Baramati constituency but resigned a year later to come back to state politics. He contested and won the 1985 Maharashtra assembly election and became the leader of the opposition as Indira Gandhi’s Congress (I) came back to power.
He returned to the Congress fold in 1987 and took charge as Maharashtra chief minister in 1988, replacing then CM Shankarrao Chavan who went to Delhi to join the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet. Pawar won the 1990 Maharashtra state polls and began his third stint as Maharashtra’s CM.
Pawar at the Centre
As part of the Congress in the 1980s and 90s, Pawar was widely seen as a prime ministerial candidate and while he was one of the strongest contenders in 1991, after former PM Rajiv Gandhi’s death, the party picked P.V. Narasimha Rao.
In his book, On My Terms: From the Grassroots to the Corridors of Power, Pawar blamed it on Sonia Gandhi, saying she feared his independent mind and thought his election to the post would not be good for the first family.
While he lost out on the PM’s post, Pawar was inducted as a defence minister in the Rao cabinet, a post he held till March 1993 when he returned as Maharashtra CM for the fourth time. The then CM Sudhakarrao Naik had resigned after the violent 1992-93 Bombay (now Mumbai) riots and Pawar replaced him.
In 1995, he took charge as the leader of the opposition when the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance formed its government in the state for the first time with the Sena’s Manohar Joshi as CM.
In 1996, Pawar won the Lok Sabha elections from Baramati and was never state-bound again. Three years later, Pawar founded his NCP.
He contested and won every Lok Sabha election from Baramati until 2009 when he decided to shift his constituency to Madha to make way for his daughter, Supriya Sule, to fight from Baramati. This was the last election he contested.
In between, Pawar registered some resounding wins. His biggest victory margin was in 2004 when he swept aside the BJP candidate by a thumping 4.23 lakh votes. Even when he contested from Madha, also considered to be a safe NCP bastion, Pawar won by 3.14 lakh votes.
In 2012, Pawar, then 71, hinted at retirement from active politics, announcing his decision to not contest the Lok Sabha election and make way for the younger generation. He, however, went back to Parliament as a Rajya Sabha member.
Parth Pawar, whose candidature Pawar announced last Tuesday, will be the fourth member of the Pawar dynasty to enter electoral politics — the others are Pawar’s nephew Ajit and his daughter Sule. Parth is Ajit’s son.