Sharad Pawar gets NCP workers’ vote of confidence on Munde turf — ‘will always be with saheb’

Beed: On Wednesday, when a journalist asked Sharad Pawar how many MLAs were still with him after the rebellion by nephew Ajit Pawar, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief laughed and said “zero”. 

On the very next day, the 82-year-old — addressing a massive public rally, ‘Swabhiman Sabha’, in Maharashtra’s Beed — showed one thing: He may or may not have NCP MLAs standing behind him, but he definitely has the support of a vast number of the party’s ground-level karyakartas.

In one of his first major rallies since the split in the NCP last month, the senior Pawar characteristically refrained from making personal attacks against the rebels.

But he left the sea of party workers gathered with the one message they wanted to hear, that he may be getting old, but he isn’t done yet. 

“This district’s leader who left us said that Pawar is getting older now and we need to be with another leader,” he said to the cheering crowd in a reference to NCP rebel Dhananjay Munde, the nephew of late Union minister Gopinath Munde.

“I want to tell him just one thing — what have you seen of me that you say I am old?” he added.

In his 15-minute speech, Pawar once again sought to scotch the speculation surrounding his meetings with the NCP rebels, who have joined hands with the BJP. He reiterated his stand that he is against the BJP and attacked PM Modi over Manipur and other topics like inflation.  

He told the crowd that they had to prepare to fight against the BJP and its forces, and whoever is with the BJP. 

“The country is grappling with many issues like inflation, unemployment, lapses in law and order and security, even Manipur is burning, so if these situations have to be changed, then a different path needs to be adopted,” he said. 

Pawar has stuck to similar themes in his speeches since the rebellion, hitting out at the BJP and dismissing questions raised by some of the rebels regarding his age.

A day after the rebellion, when Pawar visited the memorial of his mentor — Maharashtra’s first chief minister Yashwantrao Chavan in Karad — he said, “Some of our people fell prey to the BJP’s tactics to break other parties.”

The following week, he kicked off his Maharashtra tour from Yeola in Nashik district, the constituency of rebel party leader and minister Chhagan Bhujbal, and said that he “is neither tired, nor retired that I should be taking a step back from politics”.

Referring to the rebel faction, he said he had erred in trusting some people.

Pawar planned to hit the roads earlier following the rebellion but the schedule was changed in light of rains and the assembly session.

Also Read: Family, political style, strategy — why Sharad Pawar isn’t attacking rebels, unlike ally Thackeray

Rally at rebel’s doorstep

Beed, a drought-prone district in Marathwada, is a bastion of the Mundes. 

Dhananjay Munde quit the BJP in 2013 and joined the NCP after Gopinath Munde picked his daughters to carry forward his legacy. Since then, Dhananjay and cousin Pankaja Munde have been pitted against each other in Beed. In 2014, Pankaja won the Parli assembly seat, while Dhananjay won in 2019. 

Ahead of Pawar’s rally, the streets of Beed city were adorned with banners by the Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP, welcoming him. 

But alongside hung other banners — displaying both Sharad and Ajit Pawar’s photos with the text: “Give your blessings to the one who works.”

These posters did not identify who put them up, but the message was in line with the requests made by the NCP leaders to Sharad Pawar.

The public rally was scheduled to begin at 1 pm. But large numbers of people — farmers, women and youth — began streaming in right from morning hours. 

NCP worker Sitaram Kale, 80, came from a village about 10 km from Beed. Speaking to ThePrint, he said he had always followed Sharad Pawar and been with him. 

“He is with farmers, and has an all-inclusive stand. I have always stayed with him,” he added. “What is happening right now is not good. I will always be with saheb (Sharad Pawar).”

Tulsidas Sanap, a 65-year-old NCP worker who stays 31 km from Beed, said he worked with Gopinath Munde earlier and later followed Dhananjay Munde. “But now I want to be where Sharad Pawar says,” he added.

“I am also old, Pawar saheb is also old. I have to support him. Whatever happened with him is not good. Ajit dada deceived him, so I will support saheb only,” he said.

Beed MLA Sandip Kshirsagar, who arranged the rally, said the turnout was good. “I feel, along with the district, people from neighbouring districts were also present,” he told ThePrint. 

Pawar arrived around 2.30 pm. As soon as he came, the crowd started dancing and cheering for Pawar, with the NCP anthem playing in the background.

Pawar was showered with flower petals as he entered, and crackers were burst outside the venue. 

Before Pawar, other MLAs took the dais — Jitendra Ahwad, Jayant Patil, Rohit Pawar, Anil Deshmukh, Sandip Kshirsagar, Rajesh Tope — as did some local leaders. Every time they attacked Dhananjay Munde, the crowd seemed to resonate with the loudest cheers. 

Pawar also made a less-than-veiled reference to Dhananjay Munde.

Speaking about Parli (Munde’s constituency), he said “misuse of power” was blatant in the constituency. 

“Today you might be in power but if a combined force comes together, then people will throw you out. You have seen what it can do earlier (reference to Munde losing 2014 elections),” he added.

“It is fine if you want to be with power, but at least show some humanity to those from whom you have learned a few things. If not, people will teach you a lesson,” Pawar said. 

‘Soft approach’

Political analysts say Pawar refraining from direct attacks on Ajit and the other rebels was in line with his style. 

“He has made his stand clear to go against the BJP and it is not his nature to be aggressive and make personal attacks,” said political analyst Hemant Desai. 

“We have to see how he proceeds, but one thing could be that he is also keeping his doors open for those (rebels) who want to come back to him,” Desai added. 

Analyst Vijay Chormare agreed. “Since the beginning of this rebellion, Sharad Pawar has been talking about an ideological line,” he said

“He is talking about ideology against the BJP. He made his stand clear even at yesterday’s press conference. If people want him to talk against Ajit Pawar directly, then that is not his style,” he added. 

“And this is because of the direct comparison with the Shiv Sena and how the Sena leaders talked back at each other, but Pawar’s style is different.” 

And Pawar’s message appears to have sunk in. 

Kudhke Ranganath, a 68-year-old NCP worker, told ThePrint after the rally that Pawar’s message was clear “that we have to go against the BJP”. 

“Whatever Ajit Pawar has done is not right. We have to be with Pawar and will always fight alongside Pawar,” he said.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

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