The Janata Party and Peasants and Workers Party backed Pawar, who was sworn in as CM on July 18, 1978.
Mumbai: In splitting the NCP, Ajit Pawar managed to repeat what his kaka (uncle) Sharad Pawar had done in July 1978 to become chief minister. An election in 1978 threw a hung Assembly with the Janata Party emerging as the single-largest party at 99 seats. However, the two factions of the Congress — the Indian National Congress and Congress (Indira) — together held over 130. With the support of smaller parties and Independents, the uneasy post-poll coalition enjoyed a wafer-thin majority of just four seats.
With an unsteady alliance the Vasantdada Patil-led government was always on notice. That the government would fall was never in doubt, but its abrupt end created ripples across the Indian political spectrum. The end was brought about by the then 37-year-old industries minister Sharadchandra Govindrao Pawar. That Pawar was always waiting to be the CM was not a secret.
His mentor, Yashwantrao Chavan, had been grooming the young Pawar to take over someday. So it came as no surprise when Pawar began asserting himself after the 1978 Assembly polls.
Interestingly, Pawar initially backed the Vasantdada Patil government to help it survive a no-confidence motion but later drove to the Raj Bhavan and staked claim to form the new government.
In his 2015 autobiography, On My Terms: From the Grassroots to the Corridors of Power, Pawar narrated the back channel between his associates — Abasaheb Kulkarni and Kisan Veer — and the then Janata Party chief Chandra Shekhar.
In the book, he added the Janata Party was keen on forming the government and that Chandra Shekhar had also held talks with state Janata Party leaders Uttamrao Patil and S.M. Joshi. Eventually, 38 MLAs of the Patil-led Congress broke away to form the Samantar Congress. The Janata Party and Peasants and Workers Party backed Pawar, who was sworn in as CM on July 18, 1978.
The episode cemented Pawar’s credentials as a wily politician though the stigma of having betrayed Patil followed him.
In his autobiography he blamed the uneasy alliance between the two Congress parties for his action.
However, his deeds in later years such as the merger of his Congress (Socialist) with the Congress (I) in 1986, and his post-poll alliance with the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress just months after splitting from the party in 1999 betrayed what his critics might refer to as his ‘opportunistic instincts’.
While time will tell how successful Ajit’s gambit is, his decision to join hands with arch-rival BJP resembles a move from his uncle’s (addressed as kaka in Marathi) 1978 playbook.