Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief, an old warhorse of Indian politics, has been named in an enforcement case investigation report filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the Rs 25,000 crore Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank scam case. His nephew Ajit Pawar is also an accused in the case.
Sharad Pawar has called it vendetta politics before the state polls due next month and thundered that like Shivaji, he won’t bow down to the powers in Delhi.
NCP is fighting for survival with its back to the wall. The party is facing a mass exodus of leaders. Almost daily, there is news of this or that MLA, MLC, corporator, senior leader leaving the party and joining either BJP or the Shiv Sena.
NCP was formed in May 1999 by Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma, and Tariq Anwar after they were expelled from the Congress for opposing Italian Sonia Gandhi’s ascendancy to party president post. Sangma left the party in 2012, while Tariq Anwar quit last year and returned to the Congress.
The party didn’t have a base of its own. The Congress split down the line from the top to the bottom and many leaders/workers switched loyalties to Pawar. He wasn’t ever able to create a vote bank or support apart from the one enjoyed by the Congress party. The 1999 state elections held within three months of formation of the party threw up a hung verdict.
Pawar allied with Congress to form government in the state, the same party that he had left three months ago.
The Congress-NCP alliance went on to rule the state for 15 years on the trot. In 2004, NCP got more seats than the Congress; despite that, he offered the Chief Minister’s chair to the grand old party. In effect, the party leaders and workers enjoyed power since the foundation days of the party.
Now NCP is out of power for the last five years and has faced a serious drubbing in two consecutive general elections. The workers are not used to being out of power and it has impacted their status and funding. To add to the woes of the party, the
Maratha voter, its staunchest supporter, has deserted it. The Maratha elite, which is used to be in the corridors of power, has moved to BJP and the Shiv Sena in the last five years.
The party has been accused of espousing the cause of the elite and not the common Marathis, whose exodus to the saffron parties, began much earlier.
BJP is giving tough competition to NCP in its den of western Maharashtra. Western Maharashtra is the second most urbanised region after Mumbai-Thane. Its GDP per capita is second only to Mumbai-Thane.
While NCP won half of its tally from this region in 2014 state elections, BJP finished ahead of the party bagging 25 seats versus 19 of NCP. Urban centres have traditionally supported the BJP across the country.
NCP has been reduced to a party of Pawars, Patils, Naiks, Bhujbals and Ranes. Dynastic politics has plagued the party. In new India where youth are rejecting such politics, NCP is struggling to cope up with this phenomenon.
Ajit Pawar, the nephew of Sharad Pawar, who is considered his heir, is already 60. He is brash and arrogant, not liked by many senior leaders. The recent exodus is partly because of his autocratic style of functioning. Many NCP leaders do not want to work alongside him.
Many corruption cases have tied him down. His son Parth unsuccessfully contested the general elections early this year.
While Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule is popular in her constituency and is slowly making her mark in Parliament in matters of woman and child development, she doesn’t enjoy the same mass connect as her father.
NCP is essentially a party of regional landlords, powerful sugar lobby and cooperative societies (who arranged & managed the votes in their constituencies) with little or no direct connection with the voters.
Even Pawar is aware that NCP is politically shrinking. At this age, he is touring the state drumming up support for the UPA after having bargained for an equal number of seats with Congress. Time is ticking fast on the clock of the party!