Supriya Sule emerges as Sharad Pawar’s possible successor

Mumbai, June 10 (ANI): Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule speaks on the occasion of the party's 24th anniversary at Nationalist Bhavan, in Mumbai on Saturday. (ANI Photo)

By appointing his daughter, Supriya Sule as the Working President of the Nationalist Congress Party on the occasion of its 24th foundation day celebrations, Maharashtra strongman, Sharad Pawar, has virtually defined the succession plan, that was eagerly awaited by his colleagues. Although Praful Patel, a staunch Pawar loyalist, has also been given the same elevated status, yet it is obvious that Supriya Sule shall be the next chief, given that she has been entrusted with the responsibility of looking after Maharashtra, the only state where the party really matters. Patel’s appointment is to camouflage the succession blue print which also seeks to omit the party’s nuts and bolts man and Pawar’s nephew, Ajit Pawar. It is evident that Ajit has been outwitted in this game of power politics within the NCP, and while he shall remain as the leader of the Opposition in Maharashtra Assembly, there shall continue to be question marks on his future plans, which include the possibility of his shaking hands with the BJP. Ajit Pawar has tried to downplay the development and Sharad Pawar himself while presenting a fait accompli, stated that Supriya’s name was proposed by Ajit Pawar himself. It is also common knowledge that a few weeks ago, when 82-year old Pawar had expressed his intention of stepping down, it was only Ajit, who had welcomed the move, though in the swift political moves that followed, he was isolated. Sharad Pawar continues to be the most astute and unpredictable politician in the country, and has named the two working presidents after clearly thinking through his strategy. He is also apprehensive that his party could undergo a split, if Ajit Pawar decides to revolt at this junction. The NCP was formed on June 10th, 1999 after Pawar, along with Tariq Anwar and P.A. Sangma, was expelled from the Congress, when they raised questions regarding the foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi. However, shortly after that, he had reached an understanding with the Congress and the two parties formed an alliance in Maharashtra to face the BJP. After convincing Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary on distribution of seats, Pawar managed to put his candidates in some of the constituencies where the Congress would have easily won. The outcome in the 2004 elections was that the NCP secured 71 seats against 69 of the Congress, though three left nominees supported by Chief Minister Sushil Shinde also won. Ahmed Patel who was extremely close to Vilasrao Deshmukh succeeded in once again making him the Chief Minister after convincing Sonia Gandhi while Shinde despite the victory, was made the Governor of Andhra Pradesh. In the current Maharashtra politics, Pawar is again attempting to convince the Congress leadership that certain seats should be given to his party though this would mean that the NCP would once again gain at the expense of the grand old party. Congress chief Malikarjun Kharge is a seasoned politician and realises that Pawar was keeping the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) afloat only to keep the relevance of the NCP intact. His intention was to convert the post-polls alliance of the Assembly polls into a pre-poll alliance for the Parliamentary elections on the plea that it would help in decimating, both the BJP as well as the Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena. The Congress must pursue politics which would be beneficial to it and if the need is, it should be prepared to contest the Lok Sabha polls, without being a part of the MVA where both the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray group) and the NCP need it more than vice versa. Therefore, the Gandhis and Kharge should listen to the counsel of its senior state leaders such as Sushil Kumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan, prior to announcing any kind of tie-up. Defeating the Saffron Brigade may be the common objective of the Opposition parties, but the Congress should look at its own interests before going ahead with any alliance formula anywhere. There is also speculation that the Prime Minister may go in for an early Parliamentary poll along with the State Assembly elections later this year, though there is no evidence as yet to support this hypothesis. Pawar has laid down his cards on the table, and now it is for the Congress to make the next move so far as Maharashtra is concerned.