The Power Struggle and Proxy Politics Behind Sharad Pawar’s Brutal Takedown of His Grandson Parth
Sharad Pawar has described his grandson Parth as 'immature' and said he did not give any weightage to his statements. (Photo: PTI)
As a veteran player on the chessboard of politics, he can be described as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Unlike many politicians who shoot from the hip, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar is not known for being loquacious. Measured with his words, Pawar often leaves people guessing about their underlying meanings and interpretations.
Hence, the NCP patriarch’s brutal takedown of his grandson Parth Pawar has raised eyebrows, and has also blown the lid off the politics playing out in the NCP and the power-struggle in the Pawar household.
Parth, the son of Pawar’s nephew and Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, was the first to seek a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe in the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. Parth had made this demand to the state home minister Anil Deshmukh, who belongs to his party.
This was later seized upon by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has launched a smear campaign against Maharashtra environment minister Aaditya Thackeray, who is chief minister and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s elder son.
Reacting to Parth’s demand, Pawar has described him as “immature” and said they did not give any weightage to his statements.
Parth, who lost the Lok Sabha elections from Maval to the Shiv Sena’s Shrirang Barne, had also issued a statement welcoming the construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. The letter, which was prefixed and suffixed with “Jai Shri Ram,” mentions that “the fight (for the temple) was bitter and long,” and that arguments and claims attached to the Babri Masjid, which stood at the site before being demolished by kar sevaks in December 1992, had been “defeated thoroughly.”
Incidentally, Pawar, who has always brandished his secular credentials, had questioned if the bhoomi poojan at the site would help the country overcome the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent economic distress caused by the lockdown. Hence, his grandson’s intransigence did not go unnoticed.
That Pawar Senior and Ajit are not on the best of terms is one of the worst kept secrets in Maharashtra’s politics. Unlike his uncle, Ajit, who is the son of Pawar’s elder brother Anantrao, is known for being impulsive and upfront to the point of being arrogant and brusque. Political circles in the state are often rife with stories and anecdotes of how the uncle tried to put a check on his nephew. Parth, who is described as being an introvert, is also said to be a chip of the old block, by those who know him.
Parth’s wildcard entry into politics from Maval, and his resounding defeat at the hands of the Shiv Sena’s Shrirang Barne, by a margin of over 2.15 lakh votes, is said to have caused a fresh churn in the NCP. Ajit’s insistence on making the Lok Sabha nomination for Parth into a prestige issue, had led to Pawar backing off from an electoral contest from the Madha constituency, as his daughter Supriya Sule was already in the fray from the Baramati Lok Sabha seat.
Parth’s defeat coincided with the rise of another Pawar grandson—Rohit—the son of Pawar’s other nephew Rajendra. Rajendra is the son of Pawar's elder brother Dinkarrao (Appasaheb). Rohit contested a tough electoral battle from the BJP stronghold of Karjat-Jamkhed in Ahmednagar district and defeated then minister Ram Shinde to enter the state legislature.
Insiders said Pawar Senior had personally hand-held and groomed Rohit in the nuts and bolts of election management, thus indicating that a line of succession was being laid down for the third generation of the family.
Compared to Parth (30), who has been educated in London, and speaks Marathi haltingly, Rohit (34), a businessman and CEO of Baramati Agro, is seen as more rooted. A video of Parth, who stays at Churchgate in South Mumbai and has been educated at the elite Campion school, speaking Marathi in a heavily English accented drawl during his first public meeting during his Lok Sabha run, had led to him being trolled incessantly.
Pawar’s outburst against his grandson may also be a signal to Rohit, who often expresses his views impulsively, and was involved in a bitter war of words on Twitter with Nilesh Rane, the son of former chief minister and incumbent BJP Rajya Sabha MP Narayan Rane earlier this year.
Sources claim that after his defeat and the rise of Aaditya and Rohit in the state’s politics, Parth may be trying to assert his claim for an honourable political rehabilitation as a member of the legislative council.
Though NCP leaders attribute his statements to the “petulance of youth,” the possibility of Ajit asserting himself through Parth or making political statements through proxy cannot be ruled out in the smoke and mirrors strategy in realpolitik.
Months after the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) took charge in the state, the jury is still out on what went on behind the scenes in Ajit’s early morning swearing-in with Devendra Fadnavis as his deputy. Though Pawar managed to trump Ajit and snuff out his short-lived rebellion, the ongoing family feud and cold war will have long-term repercussions on the NCP.
Much like the Congress of yore, the NCP follows the sub-contracting model of politics, where regional and sub-regional satraps pledge their loyalty to a political party in return for their interests in sectors like co-operatives being taken care of. If push comes to shove, these leaders may have to choose between the uncle and the nephew.
Ministers and a section of MVA MLAs are said to be upset at Uddhav’s style of functioning. Legislators supporting the dispensation note with a tinge of frustration that with Uddhav being inaccessible to his men, it is left to the more hands-on Ajit to manage the show.
However, it must also be noted that while the Shiv Sena is apprehensive of a CBI investigation in the deaths of Sushant and his former manager Disha Salian, Pawar on Wednesday has said there was no reason to oppose a CBI probe even though he had full faith in the Maharashtra and Mumbai Police.
There is something about uncles and nephews in politics. Be it the Thackerays (Bal and Raj), Mundes (Gopinath and Dhananjay) and the Kshirsagars (Jaydutt and Sandeep), the uncles who once mentored their nephews have seen them emerge as their political challengers after a bitter estrangement and fallout.
Now, when the NCP is on the cusp of a leadership transition, can the Pawars break this jinx?