Pre-Lok Sabha campaign, shifting alliances within Pawar clan heats up contest in bastion Baramati

Shifting alliances within the Pawar family has ensured that the contest has heated up even before the start of the official campaign

Updated - February 24, 2024 10:29 am IST

Published - February 24, 2024 12:04 am IST - Pune

Mumbai: Nationalist Congress President (NCP) Sharad Pawar with party leader Ajit Pawar (L) during a meeting at NCP office, in Mumbai, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019. (PTI Photo) (PTI11_3_2019_000241B)

Mumbai: Nationalist Congress President (NCP) Sharad Pawar with party leader Ajit Pawar (L) during a meeting at NCP office, in Mumbai, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019. (PTI Photo) (PTI11_3_2019_000241B) | Photo Credit: -

The battle for Baramati (in Pune district) is arguably the most keenly contested electoral fight in the upcoming Lok Sabha election in Maharashtra.

However, shifting alliances within the Pawar family has ensured that the contest has heated up even before the start of the official campaign.

Sources say that Deputy CM and rebel NCP leader Ajit Pawar is almost certain to field his wife Sunetra Pawar as the candidate of ruling mahayuti coalition (of the BJP, CM Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena group and Mr. Pawar’s NCP faction).

If Ms. Pawar takes the field against the incumbent MP Supriya Sule, it will be the first time that Baramati will witness a contest between two members of the Pawar family.

On Thursday evening, Ms. Pawar paid a visit to Bhigwan (in Baramati) for the first time as a poll campaigner.

“The mahayuti government is working for Maharashtra’s development. Ajit dada is taking the lead in ensuring this. Everyone in Baramati loves him with all their hearts. Hence, he is up since 6 a.m. each day to resolve the problems facing the people of Baramati. You all have always showered their affection on us, and we are confident that you will continue to support us,” Ms. Pawar said, addressing an audience in Baramati.

While posters featuring Ms. Pawar, who is the sister of former Minister and MP Padamsinh Patil, have long surfaced in Baramati, a ‘poll van’ with Ms. Pawar’s poster, and detailing the development work done in the constituency by Ajit Pawar, has been doing the rounds since last week.

The potential contest between Ms. Sule and Ms. Pawar, in the event she does become the mahayuti’s candidate, has drawn-in the third generation of the Pawar clan.

Earlier, on Wednesday, Ajit Pawar was given a jolt when his nephew, Yugendra Pawar, said he would be canvassing for Ms. Sule and the Sharad Pawar faction.

“I have enormous respect for Sharad Pawar saaheb. While I may not be involved in active politics, I have been working at the ground level for some time now,” Yugendra, a businessman who is a director in the Sharayu Group and president of the Baramati Wrestling Association, said.

Yugendra, who has done his studies in Europe and America, is the son of Ajit Pawar’s elder brother, Shriniwas Pawar. Posters featuring Yugendra Pawar alongside his cousin, MLA Rohit Pawar (who is Sharad Pawar’s grand-nephew) have sprung up in Baramati.

“Yugendra has taken a good decision to be on Pawar saaheb’s side,” said Rohit Pawar on Friday, while adding, “Sharad Pawar had loved Ajit Pawar like a son. His political progress was due to Sharad Pawar. We do not think any injustice had been done to Ajit dada.

As if to offset this blow given by his nephew, Ajit Pawar introduced his second son – Jay Pawar – into the arena. On Thursday, Jay came out in support of his father with a visit to Baramati on Thursday where he held meetings with party workers.

Commenting on Ajit Pawar’s nephew rooting for the rival Sharad Pawar camp, political analyst Vivek Bhavsar observes that Maharashtra has had a history of uncle-nephew conflicts in the political arena.

“Be it the late BJP leader Gopinath Munde, who clashed with his nephew Dhanjay Munde [now in Ajit Pawar’s NCP] or Bal Thackeray and Raj Thackeray [with the latter exiting the Shiv Sena to float his own party], Maharashtra has had this tradition of uncle vs nephew conflict. The same is the case with Jaideep Khirsagar and his nephew, Sandeep, both of whom are now in rival NCP camps. While Ajit Pawar split his uncle Sharad Pawar’s party, the latter now has taken Ajit’s nephew under his wing,” Mr. Bhavsar said, remarking that Yugendra’s remarks implied that Ajit Pawar’s rebellion has not been accepted by him.

The analyst further says that when Ajit Pawar aligned himself with the BJP in July last year, he was given a mandate to win the Baramati Lok Sabha seat and defeat Ms. Sule, who will be seeking her fourth term from Baramati.

The ruling BJP has long attempted (albeit without success) to storm Baramati. With the adhesion of Ajit Pawar in the ruling government, the BJP finally senses a chance to breach Baramati as part of its ‘Mission 45’ (to win 45 of 48 Lok Sabha seats) in Maharashtra.

Moreover, this time, four of the six Assembly seats in Baramati are held by the BJP (two MLAs) and Ajit Pawar’s faction (two MLAs). Only two Assembly seats are held by the Congress, the ally of Sharad Pawar’s NCP while Pawar senior has no MLAs from his faction in the Baramati LS.

Of this, the Bhor seat is held by Congressman Sangram Thopate, whose family has had a long-standing rivalry with the Pawar clan despite the NCP and Congress being allies in Maharashtra.

Ajit, himself an MLA for a record 32 years from the Baramati Assembly seat, is straining every sinew to wrest possession of the Baramati Lok Sabha seat from his cousin, Ms. Sule.

In a recent rally in Baramati, Ajit had claimed that his family would be isolated by the Pawar clan during the Lok Sabha poll campaign.

With this declaration, his immediate family has hit the field to support him: Ajit’s eldest son Paarth, who had crashed during the Maval Lok Sabha contest in the 2019 general election, has already begun propagating for his father in Baramati, Now, Ajit’s second son, Jay, too, has entered the fray.

While remaining silent on his mother Sunetra’s anticipated candidature, Jay Pawar said, “Once the actual campaign starts, the picture will be clear as to who in the Pawar clan will be supporting whom.”

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