In 1st major rural poll post NCP split, Ajit Pawar faction sweeps Baramati, Sharad Pawar sits it out

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Mumbai:  In the first major rural election after the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) split, the Ajit Pawar-led faction of the party swept the elections to gram panchayats in the Pawar family turf of Baramati, while the Sharad Pawar-led faction did not contest at all.

Elections for Maharashtra’s 2,359 gram panchayats and 130 vacant sarpanch posts were held Sunday. Gram panchayat elections in Maharashtra are not fought on party symbols, but the contestants on the ground are often aligned with parties.

But even while counting was still underway in several places, local leaders of the Ajit Pawar-led NCP claimed the party had won at least 30 of the 32 gram panchayats in the Baramati taluka, which falls in the Pune district. 

This is the first major mandate from Baramati since the split in the NCP, when a majority of the party’s MLAs followed Ajit Pawar to rebel against his uncle, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, in July. The rebel faction joined Maharashtra’s ruling alliance — comprising the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party — and Ajit Pawar was sworn in as deputy CM.

Meanwhile, the BJP which has been unsuccessfully struggling to breach the Pawar bastion of Baramati for a decade now, also opened its account in the region, installing its sarpanch in the taluka for the first time, party leaders said. 

The BJP claims to be at the top of the charts with victories in more than 1,000 gram panchayats, followed by the Ajit Pawar-led NCP and the Shinde-led Shiv Sena, giving the three ruling parties a clear edge over the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA). 

The MVA comprises the Congress, the Sharad Pawar-led NCP, and the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray). 

The Congress has, however, disputed the claims, with Maharashtra Congress President Nana Patole claiming Monday that the MVA parties had won more seats than the ruling parties.

Sambhaji Holkar, head of the Baramati taluka for the Ajit Pawar-led NCP, told ThePrint: “In most of the gram panchayats, we were our own opponents, with two panels of our party fighting each other. Baramati does as Ajit dada (Ajit Pawar) says and this is what will happen in the Lok Sabha election as well”.

S.N. Jagtap, president of the Baramati taluka for the Sharad Pawar-led NCP, said his party did not contest the elections at all. He, however, did not specify the reasons. 

Also Read: ‘NCP is Maharashtra’s BSP’ — what BJP stands to gain from Ajit Pawar’s switch ahead of 2024

The Pawar family turf of Baramati

Over 50 years, Sharad Pawar successfully contested 14 elections — all except one from the Baramati constituency. He shifted his constituency from Baramati to Madha only in 2009 to make way for his daughter, Supriya Sule, to fight from the seat. 

Sule has held the parliamentary constituency for three consecutive terms. 

The senior Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar, son of Anantrao Pawar, contested the Baramati Lok Sabha seat before his uncle did. He won his first election from this seat in 1991. However, in the same year, he vacated the seat for his uncle and contested the state assembly poll from there. 

He has held on to the assembly seat ever since.

While there had never been an open feud between uncle and nephew until the rebellion earlier this year, there was always an underlying tension over who would inherit Sharad Pawar’s legacy — daughter Sule or nephew Ajit Pawar.

The vertical split in the NCP divided the entire party’s rank and file, and there were questions about where the loyalties of Baramati’s population might lie.

BJP’s eye on Baramati

By Monday evening, even as the results of the gram panchayat elections were still pouring in, the BJP was sure of at least one thing — of having finally breached the Pawar fortress of Baramati. The party had been able to install its first sarpanch in the taluka. 

BJP Maharashtra spokesperson Keshav Upadhye told ThePrint: “The BJP is rapidly expanding in Maharashtra and a result of that is that we have forayed into Baramati too. Overall, the results show that Maharashtra’s rural population is firmly with the BJP because of its development agenda, the central government’s leadership, and (Deputy Chief Minister) Devendra Fadnavis’s work in the state.”

In 2014, the BJP, which fought independently after 25 years of contesting elections in Maharashtra in an alliance with the Shiv Sena, dislodged the Congress-NCP government of 15 years with a thumping victory. In the state assembly polls that came six months after Narendra Modi’s election as prime minister, the BJP clinched 122 of Maharashtra’s 288 assembly seats. However, it was neither able to net the Baramati Lok Sabha seat, nor the Baramati assembly constituency.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the National Democratic Alliance gave a tough fight to the NCP in Baramati with Mahadev Jankar, chief of ally Rashtriya Samaj Paksha, taking on Sule. He lost by a margin of nearly 70,000 votes — the slimmest victory margin for the Pawar family in Baramati. The results caused BJP leaders to theorise that the party could have won had it fielded someone on its own symbol instead of giving the seat to an ally.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the party fielded a candidate on its own symbol, but the choice of candidate surprised many even within the party. The BJP fielded Kanchan Kul, a political novice, and wife of Rahul Kul, then an Rashtriya Samaj Paksha MLA from Daund. Rahul Kul contested the 2019 assembly election as a BJP candidate and won. 

Meanwhile, Kanchan Kul suffered a drubbing at the hands of Sule, losing by a margin of more than1.55 lakh votes, according to Election Commission data. 

Last year, the BJP identified more than 140 Lok Sabha seats across the country where it needs to strengthen its base and included Baramati as well as 15 other seats in Maharashtra in the list.

Also Read: How NCP’s Pawar vs Pawar feud is in keeping with Maharashtra’s tradition of uncle-nephew conflicts


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