Mumbai: Ajit Anantrao Pawar, the newly sworn-in deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, is a man with a single mission — to become the chief minister. He is not driven by ideals in his quest to achieve his ambition. So focussed is he on the mission that the route does not matter, say sources.
Jumping on to a ship helmed by BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis has only proved his detractors right.
In the past decade, Ajit Pawar’s disgruntlement has been evident. Not a man who masks his intentions, his transparent body language has been his biggest liability. “When he is angry, he is angry. He does not try to hide it. He is short-tempered. His fuse blows easily,” said a NCP leader who has accompanied Ajit on his political journey.
There are two primary causes for this disgruntlement — that he will always be known as his uncle Sharad Pawar’s nephew, and that he has not been anointed as the senior leader’s political heir. Fanned by his “well-wishers”, Ajit’s grouses have grown and festered. His actions Friday night, when he stitched together a deal with Fadnavis to set up a BJP-led government in Maharashtra, are the result of being cast into a side role by his uncle.
Over the past fortnight, since talks began for a Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra, Ajit has staunchly opposed the attempts. Facing a probe by the Anti-Corruption Bureau set up by the previous Fadnavis-headed government, and it seems the findings have forced him to go with the BJP. The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court is currently hearing five petitions connected to the irrigation scam allegedly involving him.
However, the nephew’s Friday night actions have dealt a severe blow not just to his own credibility but that of Sharad Pawar too. Ajit’s detractors within the NCP and outside have been consistent in their belief he will be loyal to anyone who can offer him the CM’s chair.
Ajit Pawar’s political ambitions were always known to his uncle. To ensure that there was no clash with his daughter Supriya Sule, Sharad Pawar left largely left the state’s political machinations to Ajit.
However, in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Ajit got into a direct conflict with his uncle and demanded that his son Parth be fielded as a candidate. Ajit refused to listen to reason, and Parth lost the polls from Maval, a seat which was an NCP stronghold. The stage had been set for further face-offs with his uncle.
“Ajit Pawar feels that Saheb (Sharad Pawar) is favouring Rohit Pawar over his son,” the party source said, referring to the son of the NCP chief’s younger brother Rajendra.
“He had to fight for a Lok Sabha ticket for Parth. He lost the polls. But instead of being humbled by the experience, Ajit dada has only become more ambitious.”
Rise up the ranks
A six-time MLA from the Pawar stronghold of Baramati in Pune district, Ajit first stepped into politics in 1982, when he was elected to the board of a sugar cooperative.
In 1991, he took over as chairman of the Pune District Cooperative Bank, a post he held for 16 years. The same year, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Baramati, but vacated the seat for his uncle, who was the defence minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government.
Ajit was elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly in the same year. He joined the government and was the junior agriculture minister from November 1992 to February 1993. In later ministries, after the NCP split from the Congress and the parties formed an alliance, he held various portfolios including horticulture, power, water resources (Krishna valley and Konkan irrigation).
After the 2009 assembly polls, Ajit was keen on becoming the deputy chief minister. However, senior NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal was chosen for the job. In 2010, when Bhujbal resigned from the post, Ajit took over the reins from the former. But he never forgot that he was Sharad Pawar’s second second choice for the post, said a source.
By joining hands with Fadnavis, the man who set up an anti-corruption probe against him, Ajit could have earned himself a five-year reprieve from any action by the investigating agencies.
But Ajit’s attempts to move out of the looming shadow of his uncle have come to nought in the past.
The Friday night coup may have been an attempt to emulate Sharad Pawar’s similar attempt 41 years ago. In 1978, Sharad Pawar had walked out of the Congress with 38 MLAs to form a new party, the Samantar (Parallel) Congress. He went on to establish a new government and became the state’s youngest CM at 38.
Ajit Pawar is not new to controversies; his political journey has been fraught with it. His aggressive tongue has been a liability that he has been unable to keep in check.
He faced accusations of sparing no effort to help develop the Lavasa Lake City project (by a private builder) during his tenure as water resources minister. In September 2012 , he faced corruption allegations and was accused of misappropriation of funds to the tune of Rs 70,000 crore.
On 7 April 2003, at the peak of a drought crisis, he addressed a meeting in Pune’s Indapur, and said “should we urinate into the dam if there is no water?”. His statement caused widespread protests across Maharashtra, and he was forced to apologise, later admitting that this was the biggest mistake of his life.
Then, in April 2014, when he was the state water resources minister and was campaigning for Supriya Sule in Baramati’s Masalwadi village, he threatened to cut off the water supply if the people did not vote for his cousin.
Now, having publicly humiliated his uncle, a patch-up seems unlikely. Sharad Pawar will never forget this slight. Even if the Fadnavis-led government survives the floor test on 30 November, this could very well be the end of Ajit Pawar’s political journey — his uncle will probably ensure it.