The decision of Sharad Pawar to resign as president of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — with a late rider that he would reconsider it — could mean different things to different formations in national and state politics as his role is not confined to the formal position he holds.
The NCP had splintered from the Congress but has been a steadfast ally of the parent party at the national level through thick and thin. It has played a key role in the formation of the United Progressive Alliance at the national level and the Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra and helped the Congress as well as itself to come to power. Mr Pawar’s announcement on shifting the gears of his political journey comes at a time when all these formations — the NCP, the UPA and the MVA — are passing through critical times.
The NCP is facing a threat from within amid reports of a section of the party, led by Mr Pawar’s nephew and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, trying to split the party and move towards the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. This will considerably weaken the party and the MVA, and jeorpardise the Opposition efforts to put up a fight against the NDA in the state which sends the second largest contingent to the Lok Sabha.
The Congress and the UPA are also at a crossroads. There has been a demand for cobbling up a platform on which all those who are opposed to the NDA come together and ensure a straight contest in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Though parties friendly to the Congress — the Janata Dal (United) and the DMK — are in the forefront of such efforts, there is no guarantee that the grand old party would get the pre-eminence in the new formation which it thinks it deserves. There are disparate groups outside the NDA but harbouring their own ambitions. Someone like Mr Pawar with a long six-decade innings in public life who has seen every facet of practical politics in this period will be of enormous help for the Opposition to find the rhythm within its various elements to tango.
Mr Pawar has indicated that he will rethink his decision. It is possible that he sticks to his decision and hands over the party to the next generation when he can still sway major decisions. Or he could stay on and steer the party through the elections and then leave the post. He has made it clear that he will not retire from politics whether he stays on as party president or not. The internal dynamics and power games within the party are sure to influence his decision. Whatever it is, it’s imperative that he prevents the party from splitting, which could make it an insignificant player in the state and at the national level. Even a splinter group of his party moving towards the NDA could considerably diminish his stature and dent Opposition unity. Mr Pawar, a master of political theatre, needs to come out with a solution.