Baramati: Which Pawar will the voters choose?

Sharad Pawar’s daughter and sitting MP Supriya Sule faces Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar’s wife Sunetra in a fiercely contested battle.

Published : May 03, 2024 19:13 IST - 10 MINS READ

Supriya Sule, NCP-SP leader and incumbent MP from Baramati, paying tribute to Dr B.R. Ambedkar during her campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, in Jejuri on April 25.

Supriya Sule, NCP-SP leader and incumbent MP from Baramati, paying tribute to Dr B.R. Ambedkar during her campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, in Jejuri on April 25. | Photo Credit: PTI

In the Baramati Lok Sabha constituency, all eyes are on the ongoing Pawar family feud. The stage is set for a fierce battle between Sunetra Pawar, Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar’s wife, and Supriya Sule of the NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar). The battle for Baramati will decide the real political heir to the Pawar empire, and consequently, Sharad Pawar’s political legacy, which he built over six decades in Maharashtra politics.

Baramati consists of six Assembly constituencies: Khadakwasla, Bhor, Daund, Purandar, Baramati, and Indapur. The BJP represents Khadakwasla and Daund, while the Congress holds sway over Bhor and Purandar. The NCP, led by Ajit Pawar, has its MLAs in Baramati and Indapur. Khadakwasala is an urban constituency, a part of which falls under the Pune municipality. Others are semi urban or rural constituencies.

Supriya Sule, Sharad Pawar’s daughter and the incumbent MP, has won this seat since 2009. Baramati has been Sharad Pawar’s fiefdom since he became an MLA from there for the first time in 1967. In all the Lok Sabha elections since then, his candidates have won from Baramati, including Ajit, in 1991. Sharad Pawar represented the constituency in Parliament from 1996 till Supriya succeeded him.

The 2014 Lok Sabha election changed the dynamics of Indian polity, and Baramati was no exception. Supriya’s lead decreased from 3.37 lakh votes in 2009 to 70,000 in that election. But in 2019, Supriya won by 1.36 lakh votes. In 2014 and 2019, Supriya was able to withstand the “Modi waves” only because of her lead in the Baramati Assembly segment, which stood at 90,000 and 1.20 lakh votes respectively. The architect of every victory here was none other than Ajit, a six-time MLA from here.

Also Read | Sharad Pawar: ‘Prime Minister Modi has lost his balance because he realises he is not returning to power’

But now Ajit, Sunetra, and their sons Parth and Jay are on one side of the vertical split in the Pawar family. On the other side are Sharad Pawar; Ajit’s brother Shrinivas, his wife Sharmila, and their son Yugendra; another of Sharad Pawar’s nephews, Rajendra, and his son and MLA Rohit Pawar. It is necessary to understand each one’s role in order to comprehend what will play out in Baramati.

Ajit Pawar’s hold over Baramati

Sharad Pawar virtually handed over the Baramati Assembly constituency to Ajit after he shifted to national politics. Since 1999, Ajit has been looking after everything in Baramati, from city municipal council elections to cooperative sugar mill elections, development projects of the constituency, and new investments in its industrial zones. Baramati, on many counts, has emerged as a development model in the country. Agro-based industries have flourished in the Baramati tehsil. The Baramati Vidya Pratishthan has become synonymous with quality education in the country.

Although Sharad Pawar built every institution in Baramati, Ajit has been managing the Pawar family’s socio-political empire for the past 25 years. In this time, Sharad Pawar gradually lost connect with the masses in the tehsil. But after he and Ajit parted ways, Sharad Pawar has been trying to re-establish contact with the villagers. At 84, he even surprises young people by recalling their parents’ names with his sharp memory.

Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit Pawar at an event in Mumbai on March 19, 2023, before they parted ways.

Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit Pawar at an event in Mumbai on March 19, 2023, before they parted ways. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

However, even though Ajit oversees major political and developmental works in Baramati, it is his cousin Rajendra who deals with the day-to-day issues of the villagers. He is the chairman of the Baramati Krushi Vigyan Kendra, which is a prestigious institution in the field of agricultural research. Rajendra, who is Sharad Pawar’s elder brother Appasaheb’s son, is well-regarded in the agro-based industry sector all over India. His company, Baramati Agro, has an annual turnover of over Rs.2,000 crore.

Rajendra’s engagement with the villagers extends beyond agriculture, at times helping them with medical assistance or even getting admission for their children. Rajendra is firmly behind Sharad Pawar. The challenge for Ajit is to overcome Rajendra’s personal rapport with the electorate.

  • The Baramati Lok Sabha constituency is set for a fierce battle between Sunetra Pawar, Ajit Pawar’s wife, and Supriya Sule of the NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar). The battle will decide the political heir to the Pawar empire and Sharad Pawar’s political legacy.
  • Ajit, Sunetra and their sons Parth and Jay are on one side. Against them are Sharad Pawar; Ajit’s brother Shrinivas and wife Sharmila, and son Yugendra; Rajendra, another nephew of Sharad Pawar, and his son Rohit Pawar, MLA.
  • Sharad Pawar has a great emotional connect with the electorate though his nephew has been overseeing political and social work in the constituency. Prime Minister Modi’s statement that there are wandering unsatisfied souls in Maharashtra for the past 45 years could benefit Sharad Pawar.

Challenges in Assembly segments

The adjoining Assembly constituency of Indapur is represented by Dattamama Bharane of the NCP. He comes from the Dhangar (shepherd) community, which has a sizeable population in the Baramati parliamentary constituency. Bharane’s loyalty is to Ajit. However, in order to get his wife elected to the Lok Sabha, Ajit has to yield to BJP leader Harshvardhan Patil, who is the chairman of the National Federation of Sugar Factories. The buzz is that Ajit has promised Harshvardhan that he would cede the Indapur Assembly seat to the BJP in the Assembly election that is due in October in exchange for his support for Sunetra’s victory in the general election. This has irked Bharane. He skipped the first campaign rally in Indapur. But, Ajit has managed to appease him for now.

Another significant aspect in Indapur is the work undertaken by Sharmila, wife of Ajit’s brother Shrinivas, who runs a private sugar mill on the Baramati-Indapur tehsil border. If a large part of Indapur has micro-irrigation facilities it is because of her efforts. Sharmila’s backing for Supriya in Indapur has intensified the contest. There are rumours that Sharmila is paving the way for her son Yugendra to get into politics by aggressively pitching for Supriya in the election.

Also Read | With ECI recognising Ajit Pawar’s NCP, stage set for high-stakes Maharashtra election

Ajit is believed to have the upper hand in Daund. Rahul Kul of the BJP is the incumbent MLA. His main rival, Ramesh Thorat, is with Ajit. So, apparently, both camps are campaigning for Sunetra. However, the situation is more complex than it appears. Rahul has faced strong opposition from Ajit for the past 15 years. His supporters are hesitant to work for Ajit this time. There are also reports in local media that Thorat’s staunch supporters have put Sharad Pawar’s symbol, “Man Blowing Turra”, as their WhatsApp status.

At the same time, Sharad Pawar has brought Uttam Jankar, a Dhangar community leader, from adjoining Madha parliamentary constituency to campaign in Baramati. Jankar keeps visiting Daund and Indapur regularly. This has tilted Daund’s battle in favour of Sharad Pawar.

Purandar and Bhor are traditionally Congress strongholds. In Purandar, first-time MLA Sanjay Jagtap is campaigning for Supriya. Former MLA Vijay Shivtare, who is with Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena, had initially declared that he would contest the election as an Independent. However, Ajit Pawar talked him out of it and now Shivtare is campaigning for Sunetra.

A meeting in Pune on April 18 before Sunetra Pawar filed her nomination papers.

A meeting in Pune on April 18 before Sunetra Pawar filed her nomination papers. | Photo Credit: ANI

In Bhor, Sharad Pawar took the initiative to end a 40-year-old rivalry with Anantrao Thopte of the Congress by visiting his house. His son, Sangram, a three-term MLA, is rooting for Supriya.

Khadakwasla, which is on the periphery of Pune City and represented by the BJP, is the key Assembly segment in Baramati. Hindu right-wing organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, and even controversial right-wing leader Sambhaji Bhide’s Shri Shiv Pratisthan have a significant presence here. “We want to finish Sharad Pawar politically. This will happen now as Ajit Pawar is with us,” BJP’s senior leader and Cabinet Minister Chandrakant Patil said recently, echoing the feelings of right-wing activists.

Sharad Pawar’s emotional connect

But this may turn to Sharad Pawar’s advantage. Even Ajit’s supporters seemed uneasy after hearing Patil’s rant. In a damage-control exercise, the BJP immediately removed Patil from campaigning in Baramati.

Sharad Pawar stands to gain from a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. While addressing a rally in Pune, Modi said, “There are wandering unsatisfied souls. One such has been wandering in Maharashtra for the past 45 years. His wishes are not fulfilled, so he wants to keep Maharashtra unstable.”

Though Modi did not name him, his reference was obviously to Sharad Pawar. In 1978, Pawar engineered a split in the Congress (S) to topple Vasantdada Patil’s government, and went on to become Chief Minister at the age of 38; he is the youngest Chief Minister to date in Maharashtra.

Modi’s remarks could backfire on the BJP because of Pawar’s high stature in Maharashtra politics. Ajit tried to distance himself from the comment by saying that he had no idea who the Prime Minister was referring to as “wandering soul” and that he would ask him at an appropriate time.

Sharad Pawar responded by saying that he indeed was a wandering soul. “Farmers are not getting their dues. Women are not secure, and youths are not getting jobs. I am disturbed by this. I would be happy to be called such names a hundred more times for being disturbed over people’s issues.”

Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray) too lost no time in responding to Modi. “You are calling Pawar saheb a wandering soul. Yes, he is so. Because he has cared for Maharashtra all his life. What have you done for Maharashtra? Why are you coming every single day to campaign here if you have really done good work? There is one awful soul who is coming to Maharashtra everyday,” he remarked.

The BJP initially tried to portray the Baramati election as a contest between Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. At a rally in Indapur, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “This is an election for the nation. This is between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. People of Baramati will have to vote accordingly.”

Sunetra also argues on similar lines. In her speeches, she says that Ajit has taken a different stance because of Modi’s development politics. “We have seen how India’s stature has increased in the world in the last 10 years. We are seeing development. So vote for ‘watch’ [NCP symbol],” she said in a rally at Pisoli in Khadakwasla.

NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) leaders have turned it into a battle of prestige for Sharad Pawar. While addressing a meeting in Vadgaon Nimbalkar of Baramati Assembly segment, Rohit Pawar told villagers that the BJP’s attack on “Pawar saheb” was to contain him in Baramati. “Our reports suggest that the INDIA bloc will get 240 seats and the NDA will get around the same numbers. In such a situation, Sharad Pawar is the only leader in India who can get the magic figure. Saheb has done this in Maharashtra in 2019,” said Rohit.

Also Read | Supriya Sule: ‘People will decide the NCP’s future’

Party workers with emotional ties to the family are caught in between. Most of them have adored Sharad Pawar for decades and worked under the guidance of Ajit. Young people below 30 are openly rooting for Sharad Pawar; so are those above 60. But the working population between 30 and 60, who are driven by pragmatic considerations, is siding with Ajit. They find greater resonance in Ajit’s claims that the NDA will form the government and he will see to the continuation of development in Baramati. In one of his speeches, Ajit said, “If tomorrow we would like to have any industry set up here, I can take Sunetra to the Prime Minister. I can tell him that now that I have got elected an MP for you, give us this project. Your children will get jobs.”

To counter this, the Sharad Pawar camp too is doling out promises. At a speech in Mudhale village of Baramati tehsil, Rohit said: “We are sure that Supriya tai will become a minister. All your works will be done by her. There will be our government in Maharashtra within five months. All development projects will get funds. Your development will not stop.”

Obviously, the Baramati election is fought on different levels, from development-related issues to the prestige of Maharashtra. A large segment of the voters do not speak out openly for or against any side. Whatever this majority chooses, the emotional appeal of the Sharad Pawar camp or the pragmatic calculations of the Ajit Pawar group, will be decisive in Baramati.

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