Sharad Pawar
NCP President Sharad Pawar indicates to supporters to be quiet as wife Pratibha Pawar gets emotional while announcing his retirement from the party post at YB Chawan Auditorium in Mumbai on Tuesday. Party leader Praful Patel also seen. Pawar’s daughter Sule, nephew Ajit Pawar and grand nephew Rohit Rajendra Pawar are possible replacements. Image Credit: ANI

Sharad Pawar, 82, the most enigmatic leader in India today, released Part II of his political memoirs and made a shock announcement — he is retiring as the chief of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which he founded 23 years ago, in June 1999.

The Pawar play left the NCP cadre, and some party leaders shocked. It was a quintessential Pawar move marked by stealth and surprise. Two leaders in the NCP, Supriya Sule — Pawar’s only child — and Ajit Pawar — his often rebellious nephew — were aware of the announcement.

Has Pawar checkmated the BJP and impatient leader in waiting Ajit with this ostensible retirement scheme? Of late, the NCP has been rife with speculation about Ajit Pawar and his desire to claim the office in Maharashtra, allying with the BJP. Praful Patel, senior Pawar aide and a Gujarati in a Maratha First party, has been in close contact with a beleaguered billionaire very close to the BJP to do a power switch. Patel was the aviation minister in the UPA government led by Dr Manmohan Singh and faces a slew of CBI cases relating to the purchase of aircraft for Air India, which was government-owned. Patel has been restive in the NCP, sensing that he would have no future in a post-Pawar political scenario.

Impatient and impulsive Ajit Pawar

Ajit Pawar is publicly impatient for his dream job as Maharashtra chief minister. He is known to be impulsive in his decision-making — a total contrast to his uncle Sharad Pawar.

The BJP, which has not forgiven Pawar for conjuring up the unlikely MVA alliance between the Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, the Congress party and the NCP, has been fishing in the troubled NCP waters. Senior BJP leaders have reportedly told Ajit Pawar that if he has the support of enough NCP MLAs to switch sides, they will replace Eknath Shinde of the breakaway Shiv Sena with him.

Pawar has watched this play out silently but ensured Ajit Pawar pledged public loyalty at a massive MVA rally in Mumbai on Monday. Today, Ajit Pawar said his uncle was still the head of the family, and he would humbly request him to take back his resignation.

This move is strategic, and he [Sharad Pawar] will pull many more rabbits out of his hat. You can’t imagine Baramati, which he has nursed to world standards, without Pawar. He will definitely play a pivotal role in the upcoming 2024 general elections.


The million-dollar questions in Mumbai and Delhi political circles are: Is the resignation real? Will Pawar walk back after suitable pleading from the cadres and leaders? Who would replace Pawar as NCP chief?

In the running are Pawar’s daughter Sule, nephew Ajit Pawar and his favourite grand nephew Rohit Rajendra Pawar, 37, the MLA for Karjat-Jamkhed. Sule has kept out of Maharashtra politics and focused on national politics to keep “dada” Ajit placated. Sule and Patel have been the NCP interface with the national opposition. Patel’s recent moves, which are known to Pawar, have put him in isolation. Sensing the snub, Patel has tried desperately to work out a deal with Ajit Pawar to be part of the new alliance.

Will the resignation gambit help Pawar regain total control of his party? Pawar’s politics have always been anchored in his ability to shake hands and strike deals with rivals. Pawar quit the Congress ostensibly to protest the foreign origins of Sonia Gandhi but went on to partner with the Congress in Maharashtra and Delhi, where he was agriculture minister.

read more

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a special trip to Pawar’s constituency Baramati and hailed him as his “political guru”. Pawar has unmatched clout with corporate India and recently came to the rescue of Gautam Adani. Pawar has India’s top leaders on speed dial, and more importantly, they respect and listen to him.

Pawar was unmatched as Maharashtra chief minister when terror attacks rocked Mumbai, and it was perhaps his most fulfilling political stint. He has been India’s defence minister but never got his dream job — prime minister. With a rueful smile, he told me during an interview: “They will never let a Maratha become PM, so how can I dream.”

I can say with certainty after two decades of Pawar-watching: this move is strategic, and he will pull many more rabbits out of his hat. You can’t imagine Baramati, which he has nursed to world standards, without Pawar. He will definitely play a pivotal role in the upcoming 2024 general elections. Watch this space.