Decoding Pawar Politics and Power Optics

Shankkar Aiyar
5 min readMay 7


Recent utterances and events brought Pawar’s felicity for political pivot under the spotlight. The tantalizing nature of #SharadPawar’s moves is that both the theories, of enabling and disabling #AjitPawar, are plausible and both could be baseless. The saga is about Maharashtra but more critically about the high stakes 2024 battle.

By Shankkar Aiyar | Published: 07th May 2023 01:02 AM |

It is said a week is a long time in politics. In the rambunctious political landscape of Maharashtra, half a week is long enough.

On Tuesday, Sharad Pawar announced that he was stepping down from his post as the chief of the Nationalist Congress Party. The announcement registered on the Richter scale of Maharashtra and national politics. Speculation about the reasons and consequences followed. The received wisdom was that this opened up the path for his nephew Ajit Pawar, who has not been coy about his ambition to be the chief minister, to re-align his flock with the BJP in the state. As it turns out the committee which was formed to choose his successor rejected his resignation.

Sharad Pawar after the May 5 Press Meet | The New Indian Express | PTI Photo

On Friday evening, 82-year-old Sharad Pawar, ever the protocol conscious politician, cited public sentiment and withdrew his resignation. India’s political history is replete with offers of resignation and withdrawals. The significance is the timing and the political conjunction. The speculation now is that the wily Maratha strongman has effectively isolated Ajit Pawar and defanged his ambitions. The tantalizing nature of Sharad Pawar’s political moves is that both the theories, of enabling and disabling Ajit Pawar, are plausible and both could be baseless. Even the Croatian genius who could beat the Russian roulette would have trouble decoding Pawar politics.

Early on in his career Pawar displayed audacious ambition and illustrated his ability for collaborative action. In 1978 the young Pawar –on the diktat of his mentor Y B Chavan — toppled the Vasantdada Patil government in Maharashtra deploying a rainbow coalition of parties from the left and the right to emerge at 38 as the youngest CM of Maharashtra. Ousted in 1980, Pawar toured every district of Maharashtra and legend has it that he can identify and name political workers in each of the 288 assembly constituencies in Maharashtra.

This connectivity with ground realities is critical to Pawar power. It came handy four decades later, as he weaponised the slur of an ED case and thwarted the BJP from attaining majority. He pulled the plug on an attempt by Ajit Pawar to form a government with the BJP — and political folklore has it that it had the sanction of Pawar. He then installed an unprecedented coalition of Shiv Sena, NCP and the Congress. The irony is that many in his party believe that Ajit Pawar is poised to do a Pawar again splitting the NCP to align with the BJP and hence the fog of speculation.

Long before it became currency in geopolitics Sharad Pawar subscribed to the idea of strategic autonomy. This obviously irked the Congress. In fact his friendship with Chandra Shekhar got him into trouble with Rajiv Gandhi in 1990. Pawar has nurtured friendships across the aisle — whether it was the Abdullahs and Badals in the north or Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi in the south.

Although his party (first the Congress-S and now NCP) has rarely set records Pawar has punched way above the weight of his party’s electoral profile. Thanks to the network effect across politics, business, sports and society, his mastery over administration and perception of being pro-reforms, for decades Pawar retained the moniker of ‘potential prime ministerial candidate’.

Decoding Pawar politics requires understanding contextual ambiguity. In 1999, he split from the Congress to form the NCP. The party then aligned with Congress in Maharashtra in 1999 and then in the Centre as a member of the UPA in 2004. Recent events have brought this felicity for politically strategic pivot under the spotlight.

In early April, Pawar split ranks with the opposition — particularly the Congress — and stated that he did not share the opinion of allies about the demand for a JPC on the Hindenburg report on Gautam Adani’s companies. It is true that Pawar has shunned the targeting of business leaders in the political arena. What fuelled the flames of speculation is that Pawar also met with Adani a couple of weeks after issuing the statement.

The political context of the events and utterances is critical. For weeks now the media mills have been abuzz with speculation of a change of guard in Mantralaya. There is the pending judgment from the Supreme Court on the formation of the Shinde-led regime. There is also growing disaffection between the Shinde-led Sena and the BJP. But the saga is less about Maharashtra and much more significantly about the 2024 elections.

Maharashtra accounts for 48 seats in the Lok Sabha and the electoral math matters. The BJP has coined the slogan ‘Mission MahaVijay’ and set a target of 45 seats — a C-Voter India Today poll though has the BJP trailing the MVA coalition. The gap between the MVA and the NDA apparently is in rural and Maratha votes. The assessment is that the BJP needs an alignment with the NCP to bring in those votes. The risk-rewards matrix includes pressure of the agencies on NCP leaders and a share of power. And the key to the vote bank is with Sharad Pawar.

On April 19, Pawar’s daughter and Baramati MP Supriya Sule is said to have predicted two political earthquakes, one in Maharashtra and one in Delhi in 15 days. Ostensibly the first one was Sharad Pawar’s resignation and withdrawal. Presumably, the second quake is awaited.

Shankkar Aiyar, political economy analyst, is author of ‘Accidental India’, ‘Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12-Digit Revolution’ and ‘The Gated Republic –India’s Public Policy Failures and Private Solutions’.

You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @ShankkarAiyar. His previous columns can be found here. This column was first published here.



Shankkar Aiyar

Journalist-Analyst. Author of ‘Accidental India, ‘Áadhaar: A Biometric History’ and ‘The Gated Republic’. Studying how politics rules the economics of people!