Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar on Monday announced that he would not be contesting the coming Lok Sabha election from the Madha Lok Sabha constituency in Maharashtra's Solapur district.
Mr. Pawar’s statement comes less than a month after NCP brass said Mr. Pawar, who had ostensibly retired from electoral politics, would enter the fray from Madha.
At the same time, Mr. Pawar endorsed the candidacy of Parth Pawar — son of senior NCP leader and former Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar — from the crucial Maval Lok Sabha seat in Pune.
Mr. Pawar had said both his grandsons, Mr. Parth and Rohit Pawar, would not be contesting the Lok Sabha election while he [Sharad Pawar] would be stepping into the fray.
The NCP chief told reporters in Pune, “While there was an eagerness in the party that I should contest from Madha, a question arose at the family-level was that how many members of one family are to contest the election…two members of my family [Mr. Pawar’s daughter, MP Supriya Sule and Parth Pawar] are already contesting. I thought it would not be proper for me to contest as I have already done so 14 times in the past. There is still time for the tenure in the Rajya Sabha to get over. So, I will be remaining there [in the Upper House].”
While Ms. Sule’s candidacy from the Pawar stronghold of Baramati was a fait accompli , there was considerable speculation about whether Mr. Parth would eventually get a ticket.
Remarking on Mr. Parth’s candidacy, Mr. Pawar said that it was felt within the family that the “new generation [of the Pawar clan] be given a chance and that NCP workers too were eager about Mr. Parth contesting the election.
“Furthermore, our ally, Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) leader Jayant Patil, too had recommended that Mr. Parth should fight the election from Maval. We have lost this seat twice and we feel that someone from the younger generation would strike a chord with the constituents and offer a stiff fight to the Opposition,” he said.
At the same time, he roundly dismissed suggestions that he was withdrawing his candidacy out of fear of losing the election. “I have not withdrawn my candidacy out of any worry or fear of defeat…I have already contested 14 times in the past and never withdrew my candidacy then. So, please drive out the thought of my pulling back out of any fear,” he remarked in a humorous vein.
Mohite-Patil and his supporters' resentment
It is widely expected that ticket for the Madha seat would be given to present NCP MP Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil or his son, Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil.
Some observers aver that Mr. Pawar’s decision comes in the wake of intense resentment displayed by Mr. Mohite-Patil and his supporters in Solapur, one of the districts in Maharashtra’s sugar heartland.
With a view to quell this factionalism raging within the party, a marathon meeting of top NCP leaders, including Mr. Ajit Pawar, Udayanraje Bhosale, Mr. Mohite-Patil and veteran legislator Ganpatrao Deshmukh, the leader of the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), took place at Pune’s Baramati Hostel on Monday.
It is believed that Mr. Mohite-Patil, a former Deputy Chief Minister, and his son held talks with Mr. Pawar at the latter’s residence in the city on Sunday night.
Mr. Mohite-Patil was among the few NCP leaders who held his own against the Modi ‘wave’ sweeping the State in the 2014 general election. A strong faction within the NCP had bitterly resented Mr. Mohite-Patil being shunted aside after it was announced that Mr. Pawar himself would contest from Madha.
“We will announce the candidate for Madha within the next couple of days,” said Mr. Pawar.
Sujay Vikhe-Patil's expected defection to BJP
At the same time, he said there was no reason why the expected defection of senior Congressman Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil’s son, Sujay Vikhe-Patil, to the BJP would affect the Congress-NCP alliance in any way. “I do not think that Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil will also join the BJP…I have no doubt of his loyalty towards the Congress,” he said.
Mr. Pawar further said that while he did have talks with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, he had never urged Mr. Thackeray to join the Congress-NCP coalition.
Hitting out at the BJP, he said: “We are confident that BJP's graph is going down. They have not fulfilled their promises made after coming to power.”
Meanwhile, delivering a rebuke to Mr. Pawar, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said in Mumbai: “I think this [Mr. Pawar’s decision not to contest the election]is a big victory for the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance [NDA]. Mr. Pawar has understood correctly which way the political winds are blowing and has wisely refrained from contesting the poll.”