Sharad Pawar: ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ Who Took On Shah’s ‘Chanakyaniti’
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“I had my first brush with administration when I was barely three days old, cradled in the arms of my mother. Sharadabai Govindrao Pawar had a meeting to attend at the Pune Local Board, of which she was a member, on 15 December 1940. Although she had delivered a baby boy just three days earlier, she was not one to miss her call of duty.”
These are the opening lines of Sharad Pawar's autobiography, On My Terms: From the Grassroots to the Corridors of Power.
Jockeying for power for six decades and counting, the 'Bhishma Pitamah' of Indian politics, the kingmaker, and 'the best prime minister India never had' – Sharad Pawar is Maharashtra's bossman.
Here’s how the NCP chief became the ‘master’ of ‘masterstrokes’:
Chapter One: The Maharashtra Gamble
And Sharad’s ‘Doosra’
The Maharashtra Assembly elections 2019 and the subsequent government formation was a battle of nerves. Post the controversial but anticipated BJP-Shiv Sena break-up, when an unusual NCP-Sena-Congress alliance was set to govern the state for the next five years with Sena Supremo Uddhav Thackeray as the chief minister, in a sudden midnight coup, BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis took oath as CM with Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit as his deputy.
But in just 72 hours, the tables turned. Ajit made a quick 'ghar wapasi' and Fadnavis was forced to surrender before the Supreme Court-ordered floor test to prove majority. NCP-Sena-Congress’ 'unnatural alliance' with Pawar Senior as kingpin checkmated Modi-Shah's 'Chanakya-Niti'. Sharad Pawar kept his usual calm, leading from the front. And after the Maharashtra season finale, Maharashtra’s bossman had the last laugh.
Chapter Two: Maharashtra’s Youngest CM
By Betraying the Boss
Pawar's foray into politics began when he was still in school. He organised a protest march for Goan Independence in Pravaranagar in 1956.
Two years later, he joined the Youth Congress. He went on to become the President of Poona District Youth Congress in 1962. By 1964, he was one of the two secretaries of Maharashtra youth congress and in regular contact with bigwigs of the party.
Pawar was considered the protege of Yashwantrao Chavan, Maharashtra's first Chief Minister and the most influential politician in the state. At 27, Pawar was elected the MLA from his hometown Baramati.
In 1969, he joined the Congress (R) faction of then prime minister Indira Gandhi along with his mentor Yashwantrao Chavan. Chavan persuaded Vasantrao Naik to bring Sharad Pawar into his cabinet as state home minister. Pawar continued as home minister in the 1975-77 government of Shankarrao Chavan, who succeeded Naik.
In 1977 when Congress split again, he remained with Chavan in Congress(U) and Indira Gandhi led her own faction, Congress (I).
But in July 1978, as a bolt from the blue, he brought down the Congress government and joined hands with Janata Party to become the youngest Chief Minister of Maharashtra at 38.
Chapter Three: Emerging As The Congress Stalwart
The Bitterness and the Eventual Break-up
Pawar returned to Congress (I) in 1987 citing the rise of BJP and Shiv Sena. Pawar reportedly said that “the need to save the Congress culture in Maharashtra", was why he returned to Congress.
In June 1988, then prime minister Indira Gandhi inducted then Maharashtra chief minister Shankarrao Chavan into the Union Cabinet, and Pawar replaced him as the chief minister. He was tasked with checking the rise of the Sena which was a potential challenge to the dominance of Congress in the state.
In the Assembly polls of February 1990, the BJP-Sena coalition posed a stiff challenge to Congress which fell short of an absolute majority, winning only 141 seats out of 288. Sharad Pawar was sworn in as chief minister on 4 March 1990 with the support of 12 independent MLAs.
But in 1991, soon after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Pawar's name did the rounds for prime minister. But Congress MPs elected P V Narasimha Rao as Rajiv’s successor and Pawar had to settle for the post of defence minister. That is when his bitterness for the grand old party peaked again.
In 1999, when Sonia Gandhi became the Congress supremo, the trio of Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar demanded that a 'native-born' and not one of 'Italian-origin' be declared the prime ministerial candidate. Pawar soon exited the party and eventually formed the Nationalist Congress Party.
However, the love for Congress wasn't lost and in October 1999, when Congress again fell short of majority in Maharashtra polls, Pawar turned kingmaker. NCP joined hands with Congress to form a coalition government in Maharashtra in 1999 to prevent the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance from returning to power.
The ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ of Indian politics knows that there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies in politics.
Ten years later, not only is Pawar’s bitterness towards Congress on the wane, but also he spearheaded the dramatic divorce of ideological twins BJP and Shiv Sena, stitching together the Maha Vikas Aghadi – the coalition of NCP, Shiv Sena and Congress. In November 2019, Sonia Gandhi replaced Modi and Vajpayee and was seen with Bal Thackeray in posters and hoardings across Maharashtra; Sharad Pawar made it happen.
Chapter Four: The Pawar Patriarch
And NCP’s ‘Family Man’
When vicious rivals turned uneasy friends and nephew Ajit played spoilsport, it not just broke the party but also a close-knit family. But with his tenacity and persistence, Pawar kept his flock of MLAs together even if that came at a cost of keeping his own nephew at bay. He made sure there was no ‘horse-trading’ of his own MLAs,
Pawar’s conviction even forced Congress and Sena to display their show of strength and 162 MLAs posed before the cameras, taking an oath to not be lured.
Upon his homecoming, the uncle welcomed Ajit with open arms, sending a strong signal to the 'home-wreckers'. 'Pari-war' was won and the Pawar patriarch had the last laugh again.
Sharad's daughter Supriya Sule is a Lok Sabha MP and a seasoned politician herself. Balancing his daughter, nephew Ajit, his two grandnephews – Rohit Pawar, who is the grandson of Sharad Pawar's elder brother, Appasaheb Pawar; and Ajit’s son Parth Pawar – who are the latest NCP entrants, and the entire party was no easy task.
But even as he is inching closer to 80, Sharad Pawar hasn't lost his gravitas. He remains an invincible force in Maharashtra.
Chapter Five: Bromance With Modi
But The ‘Maha’ Turning Point
Despite a secular image and proximity to Congress the Pawar-Modi bonhomie is much talked about. So much so that even his close confidantes wondered if Ajit’s rebellion was part of his ‘hidden plan’ to share power with Modi in Delhi. But then came three major turning points.
Devendra Fadnavis' recent 'Pawar era is over' taunt, ED cases slapped against him and the 'Maha' coup against him turned the political battle personal. Eventually, Fadnavis became his own victim and Pawar proved his prowess.
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