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'Tai or Vahini?': Supriya vs Sunetra May Be Pawar's Toughest Battle For Baramati

Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

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"I have never been interested in politics. It's not my arena. There are many around me who insist (on joining politics), but I have never thought in that direction," said Sunetra Pawar, wife of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar while speaking to a Marathi news daily in February 2023, when asked about why she had not joined active politics for all these years.

Exactly a year later, she is now being perceived to be the "only candidate in Baramati worthy enough to challenge Supriya Sule," according to many in the party unit.

For the past few days, several small tempos with LED screens, audio-visuals, and big pictures of Sunetra alongside Ajit Pawar have been plying on the streets of Baramati, urging voters to "choose development unitedly."
Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

Vehicles with Sunetra Pawar and Ajit Pawar's pictures in Baramati.

(Photo accessed by The Quint)

Even as speculations of Sunetra vahini (sister-in-law) being pitched against Supriya tai have been doing the rounds for the past few months, official demands from several sections of the Ajit Pawar-controlled NCP to field her have only grown louder in the past few weeks.

"The entire party unit in Baramati, including me, wants vahini to contest. She has engaged in social work for years. Though any candidate decided by the Mahayuti will be acceptable to us, we prefer that vahini should contest," Baramati NCP chief Sambhaji Holkar told The Quint, echoing similar sentiments expressed by state NCP chief Sunil Tatkare last week.

Even as Sule downplayed the reports so far, saying that "anybody has the right to contest in a democracy," four key factors of the political mood being created around Sunetra:

'Tai or Vahini?': Supriya vs Sunetra May Be Pawar's Toughest Battle For Baramati

  1. 1. Perception Game: Why Fielding Sunetra Matters

    "There is no other candidate who has any chance of winning against Supriya tai," said another office-bearer from Baramati from Ajit Pawar's camp, refusing to comment further.

    Though most office-bearers, including those in Baramati, have sided with Ajit Pawar since the party split in June 2023, he could not have fielded a 'non-Pawar' against Sule.

    For four decades, the constituency is synonyms with the Pawar family.

    Just like the Thackerays, the Pawar family's politics runs high on the 'family' sentiment. With a 'non-Pawar' against Sule, the sympathy factor in Sule's favour would be way higher than it would be while fighting against Sunetra.

    The attempt is being seen by many as a last-mile effort to rope-in the 'Pawar family voter' that may be with Ajit but would still side with Sule as the Lok Sabha face.

    Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

    Ajit Pawar at a rally in Baramati on 11 February.

    (Photo: Facebook/Ajit Pawar)

    "In the coming days, other than my wife and two sons, you will see every member of my family campaigning against me. Even if every member of my family goes against me, the people are with me. Everybody has the right to campaign, but you will see to what lengths people will go to try to isolate me," Ajit said at a rally in Baramati on 16 February.

    While his statement is one of the many to further the 'I have been wronged and sidelined for too long' narrative, winning Baramati will be a total victory in the perception game to counter the sentiment that he 'stole the party and cheated Sharad Pawar'.

    With Baramati, Ajit would win the moral-electoral battle of winning over voters that have been won and cultivated by Sharad Pawar for decades.

    In a bid to tap in to the personal connect and support he commands across the constituency, he even went on to say that he "won't contest the Assembly election in Baramati if the candidate fielded in Lok Sabha doesn't win."

    Expand
  2. 2. 'Not Just Ajit Dada's Wife': Bid to Counter Supriya's 'Pro-Development' Image

    For Baramati, Sunetra vahini is more than just Ajit Pawar's wife.

    Several local and state leaders of the party have actively been pointing towards years of social work that make her a worthy candidate against an astute Parliamentarian like Sule.

    Born in Dharashiv (formerly Osmanabad), Sunetra is the sister of former cabinet minister and MP Padmasinh Patil who was also one of the founding members of the NCP.

    Actively involved in social work since 2000, Sunetra founded an NGO called Environmental Forum of India in 2010 that works towards developing eco villages.

    Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

    File photo of Sunetra Pawar during her NGO's 'Nirmal Gram' initiative.

    (Photo: sunetrapawar.com)

    In 2008, she led a 'Nirmal Gram' campaign across 86 villages in Maharashtra while stressing on waste management, sustainable development, community livestock management, and energy conservation.

    Her efforts have earned her several national international accolades through the years. Since 2006, she has been serving as the chairperson of Baramati Hi-Tech Textile Park that employs over 15,000 women.

    Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

    File photo of Sunetra Pawar with employees of Baramati Hi-Tech Textile Park.

    (Photo: sunetrapawar.com)

    For voters in Baramati, Sunetra is seen as somebody who stands staunchly by Ajit Pawar, and at times, represents him at events and meetings in his absence. She has never really shied away from speaking to the media either — be it representing views of the party or promoting her social work initiatives.
    Expand
  3. 3. Sympathy vs Statistics: Pros & Cons for Supriya

    Statistics around both the electorate and cadre are undoubtedly on shaky grounds for Sule.

    The NCP, Congress, and BJP hold two seats each out of the six Assembly seats in Baramati Lok Sabha — Baramati (NCP), Indapur (NCP), Purandar (Congress), Bhor (Congress), Daund (BJP), and Khadakvasla (BJP).

    Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

    Supriya Sule at an event on 19 February.

    (Photo: Facebook/Supriya Sule)

    After the party split in 2023, Dattatraye Barne from Indapur, the only NCP MLA other than Ajit Pawar from Baramati, switched sides. Most other office-bearers and party workers across the Pune region, including Holkar, are also now with Ajit Pawar.

    In the past three Lok Sabha elections since 2009, Sule has maintained a comfortable victory margin. The BJP, however, has managed to double its vote share in a decade. In 2019, Sule received 52.63% votes while BJP runner-up Kanchan Kul received 40.69% votes. The BJP's share was at 20.57% in 2009.

    Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

    Vote share percentage of Supriya Sule and the runner-up candidate in the past three elections.

    (Graphic: The Quint)

    In 2022, the BJP had launched 'Mission Baramati', following which scores of Union Ministers, including Nirmala Sitharaman, having visited the constituency to boost the cadre's morale.

    If the vote share of the BJP gets transferred to Sunetra, along with its campaigning and cadre prowess, and a fraction of Sule's votes that may split and sway her way, the battle for Sule may get more uphill than expected.

    However, since no substantial election has taken place so far, it remains to be seen which side the votes transfer to with both NCP and Sena having vertically split.

    Expand
  4. 4. Pawar & Pariwar: Supriya's Trump Cards?

    The biggest factor that has the potential to steer things in Sule's favour is the sympathy rallying behind her and Sharad Pawar since the party split.

    For several legacy voters of the NCP that have witnessed Sharad Pawar's reign, Ajit's move of 'snatching the party' from Sharad Pawar has not gone down well.

    Sule, too, has been banking on the 'united family' narrative.

    "You live in a house that is in your father's name. Will you throw him out of the house? These are the values of Lord Ram. For his father's sake, he lived in exile for 14 years," Sule said while speaking to the media after Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar last week declared that Ajit Pawar's faction is the 'real NCP'.

    Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

    Supriya Sule and Sharad Pawar at an event on 11 February, 2023.

    (Photo: Facebook/Vidya Chavan/NCPSP)

    Another factor that might steer the winds further is when Sharad Pawar himself begins campaigning for Sule.

    On 11 February, while addressing a rally in Pune, Sharad Pawar said that the people of Baramati know who actually worked for them.

    "The voters are smart enough. They know who worked for Baramati and put it on the map for all those years. They will make an appropriate decision," the veteran leader said.

    Moreover, factors like Sule's ground connect with the voters, the development work done in the constituency in the past three terms, and the transparency surrounding it cannot be ignored.

    Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

    Image of Supriya Sule on a campaign vehicle in Baramati, 19 February, 2023.

    (Photo accessed by The Quint)

    Amid constant attacks by both the BJP and quarters of Ajit Pawar's NCP over development, Sule on Monday launched her own 'report card' with details of work done in each of the six Assembly seats

    Though the sympathy factor very much exists, the real challenge before Sule is to rebuild the organisational strength that will be instrumental to keep the narrative in her favour and eventually get those sympathetic voters to the booths.

    Meanwhile, all eyes are now on an official decision from Ajit Pawar's party regarding Sunetra's candidature.

    Sources close to the Pawar family said that Sule and Sunetra have always shared cordial relations, which was evident whenever they have shared public platforms. When Sharad Pawar appointed Sule as the NCP's working president last year, which was seen as a snub to Ajit Pawar, Sunetra welcomed the decision.

    Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

    Sunetra Pawar and Supriya Sule at an event in Baramati, 1 February, 2023.

    (Photo: Facebook/Sunetra Pawar)

    Asked about the Sunetra's possible candidature, Sule, while denying to call it a 'family fight', said: "In a democracy, someone is bound to contest against me. If they have a strong candidate like me, they should field them. I am ready to have a public debate with that candidate on any topic."

    Though the statement appears to be within the ambit of the usual 'calm and composed vibe' of Sule, chances of Sunetra being fielded against her maybe the Pawar family's toughest battle for Baramati in four decades.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Perception Game: Why Fielding Sunetra Matters

"There is no other candidate who has any chance of winning against Supriya tai," said another office-bearer from Baramati from Ajit Pawar's camp, refusing to comment further.

Though most office-bearers, including those in Baramati, have sided with Ajit Pawar since the party split in June 2023, he could not have fielded a 'non-Pawar' against Sule.

For four decades, the constituency is synonyms with the Pawar family.

Just like the Thackerays, the Pawar family's politics runs high on the 'family' sentiment. With a 'non-Pawar' against Sule, the sympathy factor in Sule's favour would be way higher than it would be while fighting against Sunetra.

The attempt is being seen by many as a last-mile effort to rope-in the 'Pawar family voter' that may be with Ajit but would still side with Sule as the Lok Sabha face.

Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

Ajit Pawar at a rally in Baramati on 11 February.

(Photo: Facebook/Ajit Pawar)

"In the coming days, other than my wife and two sons, you will see every member of my family campaigning against me. Even if every member of my family goes against me, the people are with me. Everybody has the right to campaign, but you will see to what lengths people will go to try to isolate me," Ajit said at a rally in Baramati on 16 February.

While his statement is one of the many to further the 'I have been wronged and sidelined for too long' narrative, winning Baramati will be a total victory in the perception game to counter the sentiment that he 'stole the party and cheated Sharad Pawar'.

With Baramati, Ajit would win the moral-electoral battle of winning over voters that have been won and cultivated by Sharad Pawar for decades.

In a bid to tap in to the personal connect and support he commands across the constituency, he even went on to say that he "won't contest the Assembly election in Baramati if the candidate fielded in Lok Sabha doesn't win."

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

'Not Just Ajit Dada's Wife': Bid to Counter Supriya's 'Pro-Development' Image

For Baramati, Sunetra vahini is more than just Ajit Pawar's wife.

Several local and state leaders of the party have actively been pointing towards years of social work that make her a worthy candidate against an astute Parliamentarian like Sule.

Born in Dharashiv (formerly Osmanabad), Sunetra is the sister of former cabinet minister and MP Padmasinh Patil who was also one of the founding members of the NCP.

Actively involved in social work since 2000, Sunetra founded an NGO called Environmental Forum of India in 2010 that works towards developing eco villages.

Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

File photo of Sunetra Pawar during her NGO's 'Nirmal Gram' initiative.

(Photo: sunetrapawar.com)

In 2008, she led a 'Nirmal Gram' campaign across 86 villages in Maharashtra while stressing on waste management, sustainable development, community livestock management, and energy conservation.

Her efforts have earned her several national international accolades through the years. Since 2006, she has been serving as the chairperson of Baramati Hi-Tech Textile Park that employs over 15,000 women.

Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

File photo of Sunetra Pawar with employees of Baramati Hi-Tech Textile Park.

(Photo: sunetrapawar.com)

For voters in Baramati, Sunetra is seen as somebody who stands staunchly by Ajit Pawar, and at times, represents him at events and meetings in his absence. She has never really shied away from speaking to the media either — be it representing views of the party or promoting her social work initiatives.

Sympathy vs Statistics: Pros & Cons for Supriya

Statistics around both the electorate and cadre are undoubtedly on shaky grounds for Sule.

The NCP, Congress, and BJP hold two seats each out of the six Assembly seats in Baramati Lok Sabha — Baramati (NCP), Indapur (NCP), Purandar (Congress), Bhor (Congress), Daund (BJP), and Khadakvasla (BJP).

Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

Supriya Sule at an event on 19 February.

(Photo: Facebook/Supriya Sule)

After the party split in 2023, Dattatraye Barne from Indapur, the only NCP MLA other than Ajit Pawar from Baramati, switched sides. Most other office-bearers and party workers across the Pune region, including Holkar, are also now with Ajit Pawar.

In the past three Lok Sabha elections since 2009, Sule has maintained a comfortable victory margin. The BJP, however, has managed to double its vote share in a decade. In 2019, Sule received 52.63% votes while BJP runner-up Kanchan Kul received 40.69% votes. The BJP's share was at 20.57% in 2009.

Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

Vote share percentage of Supriya Sule and the runner-up candidate in the past three elections.

(Graphic: The Quint)

In 2022, the BJP had launched 'Mission Baramati', following which scores of Union Ministers, including Nirmala Sitharaman, having visited the constituency to boost the cadre's morale.

If the vote share of the BJP gets transferred to Sunetra, along with its campaigning and cadre prowess, and a fraction of Sule's votes that may split and sway her way, the battle for Sule may get more uphill than expected.

However, since no substantial election has taken place so far, it remains to be seen which side the votes transfer to with both NCP and Sena having vertically split.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Pawar & Pariwar: Supriya's Trump Cards?

The biggest factor that has the potential to steer things in Sule's favour is the sympathy rallying behind her and Sharad Pawar since the party split.

For several legacy voters of the NCP that have witnessed Sharad Pawar's reign, Ajit's move of 'snatching the party' from Sharad Pawar has not gone down well.

Sule, too, has been banking on the 'united family' narrative.

"You live in a house that is in your father's name. Will you throw him out of the house? These are the values of Lord Ram. For his father's sake, he lived in exile for 14 years," Sule said while speaking to the media after Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar last week declared that Ajit Pawar's faction is the 'real NCP'.

Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

Supriya Sule and Sharad Pawar at an event on 11 February, 2023.

(Photo: Facebook/Vidya Chavan/NCPSP)

Another factor that might steer the winds further is when Sharad Pawar himself begins campaigning for Sule.

On 11 February, while addressing a rally in Pune, Sharad Pawar said that the people of Baramati know who actually worked for them.

"The voters are smart enough. They know who worked for Baramati and put it on the map for all those years. They will make an appropriate decision," the veteran leader said.

Moreover, factors like Sule's ground connect with the voters, the development work done in the constituency in the past three terms, and the transparency surrounding it cannot be ignored.

Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

Image of Supriya Sule on a campaign vehicle in Baramati, 19 February, 2023.

(Photo accessed by The Quint)

Amid constant attacks by both the BJP and quarters of Ajit Pawar's NCP over development, Sule on Monday launched her own 'report card' with details of work done in each of the six Assembly seats

Though the sympathy factor very much exists, the real challenge before Sule is to rebuild the organisational strength that will be instrumental to keep the narrative in her favour and eventually get those sympathetic voters to the booths.

Meanwhile, all eyes are now on an official decision from Ajit Pawar's party regarding Sunetra's candidature.

Sources close to the Pawar family said that Sule and Sunetra have always shared cordial relations, which was evident whenever they have shared public platforms. When Sharad Pawar appointed Sule as the NCP's working president last year, which was seen as a snub to Ajit Pawar, Sunetra welcomed the decision.

Calls in Pawar family turf of Baramati are growing louder for Ajit Pawar to field wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule.

Sunetra Pawar and Supriya Sule at an event in Baramati, 1 February, 2023.

(Photo: Facebook/Sunetra Pawar)

Asked about the Sunetra's possible candidature, Sule, while denying to call it a 'family fight', said: "In a democracy, someone is bound to contest against me. If they have a strong candidate like me, they should field them. I am ready to have a public debate with that candidate on any topic."

Though the statement appears to be within the ambit of the usual 'calm and composed vibe' of Sule, chances of Sunetra being fielded against her maybe the Pawar family's toughest battle for Baramati in four decades.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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