It's been a bad week for Ajit Pawar

Checkmated by his uncle Sharad Pawar, his BJP 'allies' and the people every which way, Pawar Jr and his followers seem to be foundering ahead of the INDIA meet in Mumbai

Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, after meeting NCP chief Sharad Pawar on 16 July 2023 in Mumbai, India—their first after he  joined the Eknath Shinde government on July 2 (photo: Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, after meeting NCP chief Sharad Pawar on 16 July 2023 in Mumbai, India—their first after he joined the Eknath Shinde government on July 2 (photo: Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Sujata Anandan / Mumbai

It clearly was not a very happy week for Ajit Pawar.

After his uncle Sharad Pawar told him off in no uncertain terms that he was not deserving of a third chance — he had already been forgiven once for betraying the party, he would not be again — the message went down loud and clear among the masses.

So visiting Baramati, the Pawars’ home turf, for the first time since splitting the party in July, Ajit was clearly at a disadvantage.

He is unlikely to be able to win the seat unless he can pretend to the blessings of his uncle and with Pawar absolutely forbidding the use of his pictures on the rebels’ platform, Ajit found Baramati on the edge.

He wisely refrained from criticising his uncle in any way or even from referring to him as an old man past his prime before the Baramati voters. For clearly, the people of Baramati are still standing by Pawar Sr and any criticism could prove counterproductive.

That was a wise move, for when Ajit travelled to Beed—where his uncle had held a very successful public meeting the previous week—he was met with black flags, boos and hoots.

Despite agriculture minister Dhananjay Munde, whose home turf it is, folding hands before the people and asking them to hear Ajit out patiently, they did not desist and even began walking out of the venue even as speeches were underway. By the time Ajit took the stage, the place was almost empty.

Of late, Ajit has been lauding Narendra Modi as a 'man of his times' (implying that his uncle is past his era); but that seems to have won him little trust from the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders.

As finance minister, he was not allowed to announce the Union government’s award of a minimum support price to onion growers in the state. It was deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis who tweeted the announcement while on an official visit to Japan. But when Ajit tried to seize the initiative anyway and held a press meet to take ownership of the MSP, he was once again checkmated by his, uncle who said, “Anyone with even a minimum  knowledge of farmers’ problems would know that ₹24,000 per quintal was a dismal amount. The farmers need at least ₹40,000 per quintal to break even.”

Even as he was wiping that egg off his face, Ajit discovered he was left out of a strategy meeting with Union home minister Amit Shah, who was in Gujarat this week and meeting there with Fadnavis and the Goa and Maharashtra chief ministers. Obviously Ajit is not yet regarded as a trustworthy ally of the BJP.

But it could also be the fact that Ajit is clearly not bringing as much to the BJP table as its leaders had hoped — his polls are consistently on par with that of Eknath Shinde (a dismal 5 per cent).

Also, even pollsters inimical to the Maha Vikas Aghadi have been unable to deny that the Indian Nationalist Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc has closed the gap versus the BJP, with only a 2 per cent difference between the two. In Maharashtra, all three MVA allies are way ahead of the BJP and that is great cause for worry to the party.

So this week, Ajit was left only with the assertion that he is the national president of the NCP. With Sharad Pawar insisting that there is no split in his party, only a few disgruntled elements joining hands with the BJP, that assertion was perhaps necessary. Asked who had elected him to the job, Ajit said, “My supporters made me the president.”

But as Pawar has been emphasising again and again, these supporters are people trying to save their skins. So the support of a few MLAs and MPs under threat from the Enforcement Directorate does not count. The people do. And those people are still with Pawar Sr, who is this week hosting the INDIA meet in Mumbai.

So what does Ajit do? Call a meet of the three parties in government on the same day as the INDIA meet, in the hope of driving media attention away from that.

But with Lalu Prasad Yadav, who flew into Mumbai with his son on Tuesday evening (30 August), saying “We are about to stand on Narendra Modi’s gullet with INDIA this week”, more fireworks are expected there than at the 'Maha Yuri' meet of the BJP, Eknath Shinde and Ajit Pawar.

Ajit will have to wait for another say.

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