Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar, who quit on Tuesday as Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, has had a controversial tenure. His relationship with the media has been uneasy and there are serious allegations over his stint as Irrigation Minister in the earlier government and also his role in the Lavasa project near Pune.
Mr. Pawar was elected as MLA from the Baramati seat in Pune since 1991 and has held the portfolios of Power, Soil Conservation, Rural Development, Agriculture and now Finance, Power and Planning. Considered to be a no-nonsense and tough-talking politician, also known for his brashness, he was Guardian Minister of Pune since 2004. Mr. Pawar replaced Chhagan Bhujbal as Deputy Chief Minister in 2010 when the Congress had to change its Chief Minister after the Adarsh society scam.
Public abuse of media
Last year, Mr. Pawar proclaimed himself as a “tagya,” a ruffian or rowdy person, after he publicly abused the media at a meeting in Nanded, sparking off a brief press boycott. Mr. Pawar has had several slanging matches with the media and fellow politicians and often his uncle had to step in to smooth ruffled feathers.
His relationship with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has not been a happy one. Mr. Pawar’s grandiose plans of redevelopment in Mumbai did not go down well with Mr. Chavan. NCP Ministers often complained that their files were not being moved and the two years have seen a lot of friction. Mr. Pawar stepped on everyone’s toes since he took over. Before the budget last year, Mr. Pawar wrote to all Ministers asking them to attend meetings concerning a review of their departments. At least one Congress minister wrote back to him, saying he was perfectly capable of conducting the affairs in his Ministry. Some of the Ministers ignored his diktat.
Mr. Pawar’s first budget speech as Finance Minister was shouted down by the Opposition in the State Assembly but he did take some measures to increase sales tax revenue and they also had a strong focus on agriculture. However, the Congress decision in 2011 to put the NCP-led apex body Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank under administrators after reports of its negative net worth and high non-performing assets was another thorn in the coalition relations. Earlier in the year, the Chief Minister agreed to a white paper on irrigation after Opposition demands and this was seen as a blow to the NCP. While Mr. Pawar’s confidante Sunil Tatkare holds the charge, the Water Resources Department is under the lens of activists who used the Right to Information to expose many scams in drinking water projects around Mumbai.
Differences with NCP too
Within the NCP too, Mr. Pawar has sometimes been recalcitrant and has insisted on having his way, even though it went against popular sentiment. For instance, in the appointment of the Mumbai NCP president, sources in the party say he is keen on a former Shiv Sainik and trade unionist Kiran Pawaskar who was made an MLC while the party wants NCP MP Sanjay Patil. These stand-offs notwithstanding, Mr. Pawar has a strong following within his party and those loyal to him swear by his leadership qualities. He has led the NCP to much success in elections to the local bodies and the party emerged as number one in the zilla parishad and panchayat samiti polls this year. With some smart planning, he also edged out the Congress in municipal corporations in the State by allying with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
He is one of the main proponents of the NCP going it alone in the next assembly polls and has sets his sights on becoming Chief Minister.
At the press conference announcing his resignation on Tuesday, Mr. Pawar said he was clean and he would go back to the people and let them decide. That time may not be far off considering the uncertainty in the State at the moment.