Sharad Pawar, a master politician known for his deft political manoeuvring, made a stunning announcement on Tuesday. He said that he had decided to step down as chief of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) that he founded and had helmed since 1999. This dramatic move could have far-reaching implications for national and Maharashtra politics ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Pawar’s announcement, made at an event in Mumbai to release the updated version of his Marathi autobiography, stunned leaders and workers of his party. Many were seen crying and pleading with the 82-year-old wily Maratha strongman to reconsider his surprise decision.
The meeting of a committee of party leaders was held at his residence later, after which his nephew Ajit Pawar announced that his uncle would need two to three days to “think over” his decision.
Early Political Life
Sharad Pawar’s first recorded political involvement was in 1956, when he appealed for a protest march for Goan independence in Maharashtra’s Pravaranagar, according to a report by Mid Day. Four years later, he joined the Youth Congress to show his support for the Congress Party. Pawar was elected President of the Pune District Youth Congress in 1962, and he eventually held major positions in the Maharashtra Youth Congress, gradually establishing himself within the Congress party, the report says.
Political Career and Troubles
In 1967, Sharad Pawar was elected to the Maharashtra state legislative assembly after being mentored by Maharashtra senior politician Yashwantrao Chavan. He ran in the first of several elections from the Baramati constituency. After being re-elected to the assembly in 1972, he worked in a number of state government ministries over the next several years.
Sharad Pawar left the Congress Party before the 1978 Maharashtra assembly elections and helped found the Indian National Congress (Socialist), or Congress (S) Party, according to a report by Britannica. Indira Gandhi, who had stepped down as Prime Minister in 1977 and created the Congress (I) Party faction early in 1978, was opposed to the new party. A broad coalition of non-Congress (I) parties gained a majority of seats in the polls and formed a government in the state, with Sharad Pawar as chief minister. The federal government dismissed that administration in 1980 after Gandhi reclaimed power and the prime ministership. In 1981, Pawar was elected President of Congress-S.
Sharad Pawar ran for and won a seat in the Lok Sabha (lower chamber of the national parliament) in the 1984 elections, but he resigned the following year to become the leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra state assembly. In order to resist the rise of the right-wing Shiv Sena party in Maharashtra, Pawar combined the Congress-S with the Congress (I) Party in 1986 (the “I” was eliminated in 1996). He was elected as the state’s chief minister for a second time in 1988-91 and a fourth time in 1993-95.
Pawar’s political clout began to dwindle in the 1990s due to allegations of corruption and administrative blunders, the report says. The Congress Party lost the state assembly elections in 1995 to a coalition of the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Sharad Pawar was re-elected to the Lok Sabha in 1991, and he served as India’s defence minister from 1991 to 1993, under Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. However, by the 1990s, Pawar’s political clout had begun to dwindle due to allegations of corruption and administrative blunders. Despite this, he continued to remain active in politics and worked towards strengthening his position in Maharashtra politics.
Formation of the NCP
In the late 1990s, Pawar’s dissatisfaction with the Congress party’s leadership grew. He opposed the Congress leaders’ decision to promote Sonia Gandhi as the party leader, arguing that anyone who could potentially become the Prime Minister of India must be born in the country. This disagreement led to his departure from the Congress party in May 1999, along with former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Sangma and Tariq Anwar.
Following their exit from the Congress, the trio formed a new political party called the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The party’s core principles were centred around social justice, secularism, and federalism.
Coalition government in Maharashtra
Later that year, in the state legislative elections, neither the Congress nor the NCP won a majority of seats. In an effort to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of power, the Congress and the NCP formed a coalition government in Maharashtra. Sharad Pawar became the Chief Minister of Maharashtra for the fourth time in 1993-95.
Sharad Pawar’s clout in Maharashtra politics continued to grow, and he played a crucial role in keeping the coalition government intact. Under his leadership, the NCP became a major political force in Maharashtra, with a significant presence in the state assembly and the Lok Sabha.
Stepping down as NCP Chief
Fast forward to 2023, Pawar’s decision to step down as the Chief of NCP has sent shockwaves through the party and the national political landscape. He announced his decision at an event in Mumbai to release the updated version of his Marathi autobiography. Many party leaders and workers were seen crying and pleading with the 82-year-old Maratha strongman to reconsider his decision.
Sharad Pawar stated that a committee of party leaders should decide on the election for his successor. His nephew Ajit Pawar announced after a meeting of the committee at his residence that his uncle will need two to three days to “think over” his decision.
The decision by one of the tallest Opposition leaders in the country who could bring their parties together against the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections also comes amid intense speculation over Ajit Pawar’s next political move. Pawar’s political legacy and influence in Maharashtra and national politics will be remembered for years to come.
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