The Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which was a major force in Maharashtra politics with the exception of the five-year rule of Devendra Fadnavis-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), completed its 22-year formation on Thursday.
Of the many challenges the party faces, leadership is the most important – the party still remains dependent on Pawar’s appeal, although there appears to be an internal battle for leadership. While Pawar’s nephew and Deputy Prime Minister Ajit Pawar makes it clear that he would rather be the clear number two in the party, two other centers of power are making themselves felt – Pawar’s daughter and MP Supriya Sule and the party president Jayant Patil.
Ajit suffered a setback after trying to split the party and form a government with the BJP, just as Pawar was busy building a tripartite alliance with Shiv Sena and Congress after the 2019 general election. Ajit failed and had to return to the party. However, he managed to achieve the post of Deputy Prime Minister and leads the party in the government of Uddhav Thackeray. Although there are three other party heavyweights in the government, Jayant Patil, Interior Minister Dilip Walse-Patil and Food and Civilian Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, Ajit is considered the undisputed leader of the NCP in Thackeray’s cabinet.
But that’s not the case when it comes to political decisions. Senior Pawar also makes it clear that Sule and Jayant Patil carry weight in party matters alongside the NCP supremo’s close confidante Praful Patel.
Sule’s rise is a clear indication that the NCP chief prepared his daughter for greater responsibility. It interferes increasingly in important decisions of the party. It is also open to party leaders and workers as the party leader is now unable to meet everyone due to his health. “We used to all believe that Ajit Dada was the natural heir to Pawar Sahib, but now things are slowly changing. Supriya Tai is more accessible. She makes a point of meeting at least 25-100 workers and managers each day, which gives them a sense of belonging. In addition, she leads people to the ministers and makes sure that their problems are solved. Ajitdada now has restrictions on meeting party members as he is preoccupied with government responsibilities, ”a senior NCP leader said, asking for anonymity. In addition to Sule, Jayant Patil even positions himself as one of the candidates for the office of prime minister. Many in the party believe that he will not feel encouraged to make such statements unless he has Pawar’s support.
The NCP’s 2019 performance was remarkable given the mass exodus of high-level leaders and their struggle to raise the morale of party workers. It lost many of its prominent faces, who were also considered Pawar’s loyalists, aside from eight of its incumbent MLAs and one incumbent MP Udayanraje Bhonsle. But the party managed to get 56 MLAs, 13 more than it managed to get during the 2014 Modi wave. In the 2009 parliamentary elections, she won 62 seats.
Political scientist Pratap Asbe said the party must form ideology-based cadres to prevent a situation like the one in 2019. “The party cadre will not move if he or she is ideologically involved. This will hold the organization together and help move forward. To do this, the management must conduct training courses and programs for their cadres, ”said Asbe.
Another political analyst, Prakash Bal, said the party’s main challenge is to maintain its regional presence and the upcoming local government elections will be crucial. “The NCP is a regional party, just like the Shiv Sena. In the long term, it must maintain its regional presence and will therefore try to consolidate its position in the south and west of Maharashtra. The advance of voters from Konkan and the Mumbai Metropolitan Area (MMR) would be a challenge for the party. The BMC elections, which are crucial for all political parties, are due next year, but the NCP’s presence in the city is nowhere to be seen. The party is expected to do better, especially when in government, ”Bal said.