NAGPUR, Maharashtra: Last month, while preparations were being made for the foundation stone-laying ceremony of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar took a dig at the Narendra Modi-led central government, saying, “Some people think constructing a temple will help eradicate the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Last month, when the BJP raked up the demand for a CBI probe into Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and attempts were being made to embarrass the Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra by dragging his son Aaditya’s name into the controversy, Parth again took a stand similar to that of the BJP.
He met Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh and demanded a CBI inquiry into the case, even as the NCP had said that it had faith in Maharashtra police.
Angered over Parth’s comments, Sharad Pawar publicly snubbed him, calling him immature.
“We don’t attach much importance to my grandnephew’s statements. He is immature,” Pawar told reporters when asked about Parth’s statement.
In his decades-long political career, the 79-year-old has rarely rebuked one of his own family members publicly, and this should have been enough to quell the younger Pawar.
However, on 19 August, when the Supreme Court ordered a CBI inquiry into Rajput’s case, Parth tweeted, “Satyamev Jayate”, indicating all is not well in the family.
It has not even been a year since Pawar senior managed to quell his nephew Ajit Pawar’s public revolt, ensuring that his alliance with the BJP was over almost before it began. Even at that time, he did not comment publicly on Ajit’s actions.
Now Ajit is happily (at least to all outward appearances) ensconced in the deputy chief minister’s chair while Sharad Pawar makes sure that the NCP-Shiv Sena-Congress alliance functions smoothly.
But Parth’s ambiguous statements and public disregard for his grand-uncle’s ire have once again fuelled rumours of a rift in the powerful political family. Parth was firmly behind his father when Ajit tried to form a government with BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis. According to journalist Sudhir Suryawanshi’s book Checkmate, Parth had even arranged to take the rebel NCP MLAs to Gurugram by special flights along with BJP MLC Prasad Lad.
While he seemed to have settled down after the reconciliation, NCP leaders are now worried that Parth’s actions are creating confusion among the cadre, though they are quick to deny any speculation of a rift.
HuffPost India has earlier reported that the younger members of the Pawar family are jockeying among themselves to assume the mantle of Sharad Pawar’s successor.
Parth Pawar did not respond to messages and a phone call from HuffPost India. This story will be updated once he responds.
Getting closer to BJP?
The recent controversy isn’t the first for Parth, who has often fumbled since he entered politics last year, on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections.
Sharad Pawar had backed out of the Lok Sabha election when Parth and his father insisted on the younger Pawar contesting the polls.
Parth was given a Lok Sabha ticket from the Maval Lok Sabha segment which includes the Pimpri Chinchwad area, a stronghold of his father.
But his campaign was a disaster. Ajit Pawar’s elder son fumbled and looked nervous when he delivered his first speech. Subsequently, he became the first member of the Pawar family to ever lose an election.
But people close to the Pawar family point out that it is the emergence of Sharad Pawar’s other grandnephew, Rohit, which has troubled Parth more than his election defeat.
Rohit, the son of Sharad Pawar’s nephew Rajendra Pawar, was elected to Pune Zilla Parishad in 2017 and has had a steady rise since then. He contested the assembly election from one of the toughest seats for the NCP—Karjat-Jamkhed in Ahmednagar district—and defeated Ram Shinde, the then Maharashtra minister of state for home.
When Rohit wrote an emotional Facebook post requesting his grandfather not to opt out of the Lok Sabha election, Parth termed the action “stupid” in an interview with HuffPost India.
A political strategist who has worked closely with the Pawar family said that Parth’s recent actions seem to be his way of trying to make his mark.
“When Ajit Pawar is unhappy, it is clearly visible. He is an extremely predictable person. You can gauge from his face if he is unhappy. His history shows that he becomes politically inactive when he is unhappy. But now Ajit Pawar is extremely active politically. What is happening is that Parth somewhere wants to make his presence felt and there is a possibility that the BJP is instigating him in that. We have heard that Parth is consulting some PR expert who has advised him to show his nuisance value, which could be the reason behind his controversial tweets. His followers on Twitter have increased manifold and his Satyamev Jayate tweet was trending because of BJP supporters,” he told HuffPost India, requesting anonymity.
This person also pointed out that Rohit has succeeded until now because he is working at the grassroots and not depending only on his surname.
“Parth can’t expect results without toiling. There is a problem with his political clarity plus there is a push towards BJP from a section of his own family,” he added.
Parth’s maternal uncle Padmasinh Patil is a member of the BJP. Patil’s son Rana Jagjit Sinh is a BJP MLA from Osmanabad district. Parth’s mother Sunetra was also present when Ajit Pawar took the oath with Devendra Fadnavis last year.
After Sharad Pawar’s public reprimand, BJP leader Narayan Rane had supported Parth, saying that he was not immature and had contested the Lok Sabha polls.
According to a leader of NCP’s youth wing based in the Pimpri Chinchwad area, Parth is extremely active in his Lok Sabha constituency, where municipal elections are scheduled to be held in 2022.
“But the recent developments have created confusion in the party ranks,” he added.
According to a source close to Ajit Pawar, the Maharashtra Deputy CM had expressed his helplessness over his son’s recent actions while talking to a Congress leader a month ago.
“Whatever the case, Parth has been successful in attracting attention. Sharad Pawar’s statement showed how angry and irritated the NCP chief was with Parth’s antics. Rather than saying that Parth has taken the BJP line in the Sushant Singh case, it would be apt to say that he has taken a position against his own party line,” said an NCP leader from Pune.
For now, senior NCP leaders Praful Patel, Jayant Patil, Chhagan Bhujbal, and Anil Deshmukh have said that there was no rift in the NCP. BJP leader Girish Bapat has also said that Parth is not joining the BJP. Rohit Pawar and Ajit Pawar have also chosen to remain silent on the issue.
But the battlelines are visibly drawn in Maharashtra’s first family, which could well affect the stability of the Uddhav Thackeray government in the longer run.