For decades now, Sharad Pawar has remained a formidable force on the Indian political landscape owing to his farsightedness and political manoeuvres. At 84, the seasoned politician faces one of his tallest challenges after losing his party’s name and symbol due to a mutiny led by none other than his nephew – Ajit Pawar.
The Election Commission yesterday ruled that the Ajit Pawar faction, which includes senior leaders such as Chhagan Bhujbal and Praful Patel, will retain the Nationalist Congress Party name and ‘clock’ symbol. This comes as a big setback to the Baramati strongman, more so because the general election and state polls are months away.
Here’s How Sharad Pawar faction plans to fight back
Finding A New Name
An immediate task for the faction is to find a name and symbol for their party, especially since Rajya Sabha polls are days away and Lok Sabha and state elections are also approaching. The Election Commission has provided the faction a “one-time option” to claim a name for its political outfit and provide three preferences by 4 pm today. Mr Pawar’s daughter and Baramati MP Supriya Sule yesterday said they will submit the preferences today.
According to sources, they had anticipated the poll panel’s ruling and had already discussed some names for the party. They said the veteran leader may finalise a name which has “nationalist” in it and appeals to the common man. Party sources said spectacles, rising sun and sunflower are some of the symbols being considered.
Sharad Pawar’s aide and former minister Jitendra Awhad said the veteran leader will “rise like a phoenix”. Asked about the future course of action, he said, “Sharad Pawar is our party. He is our symbol and people of this state know him. There are many people in the state who are still firmly behind Pawar.”
A major challenge for the party will be to spread awareness about its new name and symbol with just months to go for state and national elections. Many voters, especially in rural belts, may still identify the clock symbol with Sharad Pawar and unless his camp is able to reach voters across the state and introduce the new party’s name and symbol, the Ajit Pawar faction may get undue advantage in the polls.
The Supreme Court Battle
The Sharad Pawar camp has approached Supreme Court against the Election Commission ruling. Soon after the ruling yesterday, Ms Sule said the Uddhav Thackeray-led faction of Shiv Sena faced the same situation. “I think what happened with Shiv Sena is happening to us today. So, this is not a new order. Just the names have been changed, the content is the same. We will fight. We will definitely go to the Supreme Court,” she told reporters.
“Our documents were fine. The founder member and founder leader of this party is only Sharad Pawar. But now the atmosphere is something else right now. There is an adrishya shakti (invisible power) in the country doing all this,” she said, alleging a political conspiracy.
When the poll panel ruled against the Uddhav Thackeray faction last year, Mr Pawar had recounted the formation of NCP back in 1999 after he parted ways with Congress. He had said the party’s symbol and name are not as important as the public perception and work of its leaders. The challenge here is that the setback has come right before key elections and will test the veteran’s decades-long experience.
Also, the Supreme Court fight will be long-drawn and the Sharad Pawar camp is unlikely to get any major relief ahead of the elections.
His aide Jayant Patil has said the Election Commission’s ruling was contrary to a Supreme Court judgment in a related matter. “The Supreme Court (in the past) said that even though MLAs shift their loyalty, the party does not follow them. Despite this, the ECI has given a decision based on the elected representatives and their inclination,” he said, according to a PTI report. This could well be the camp’s line of argument as it approaches the top court.
What Changes In The Alliances
Sharad Pawar is one of the key leaders of the INDIA Opposition bloc and the poll panel ruling is unlikely to change that. Uddhav Thackeray, who lost his party name and symbol, following a rebellion that toppled the Shiv Sena-NCP government led by him, continues to be in the INDIA bloc. However, Mr Pawar’s bargaining position is likely to take a hit now that he has lost his party to his nephew. In Maharashtra, the Sharad Pawar faction is expected to continue it alliance with the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena (UBT) and the Congress, with the both Mr Thackeray and Mr Pawar pushing hard for the upcoming state polls that will test their political mettle more than ever.
Leaders in the Sharad Pawar camp claim most state units are backing the veteran. So any major change in state alliance is unlikely.
The poll panel’s ruling, meanwhile, has relieved the Ajit Pawar faction and the Eknath Shinde government it is part of. Ajit Pawar welcomed the ruling “humbly” and thanked the poll panel. Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde said the Election Commission has taken a decision on merit.