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Pawar announces decision to step down as NCP president, stunned party leaders protest

DECCAN CHRONICLE | Prasad Patil and Sonu Shrivastava

Published on: May 2, 2023 | Updated on: May 2, 2023

Sharad Pawar (PTI)

Mumbai: Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar shocked many in his party on Tuesday by announcing his decision to step down from the party chief’s post and not to contest any election in future. Though the NCP leader agreed to rethink his decision after being pressed by other party leaders and workers, reliable sources from the party said that he may not change his decision and his daughter Supriya Sule might become either president or executive president of the NCP.

Mr Pawar announced his decision to quite while speaking at the release of the second edition of his autobiography, Lok Majhe Sangaayi: Political Autobiography, at Y.B. Chavan Centre in Mumbai. There was outrage in the NCP and his supporters sat on protests demanding that he should remain NCP president till his "last breath". Several supporters of Mr Pawar, who had gathered for the book release, sat on the steps of the Y.B. Chavan Centre and refused to move until Sharad Pawar changes his decision. There were protests in other parts of the state as well. Several office-bearers of the party submitted their resignations in protest.

In the evening, a delegation of senior NCP leaders met Mr Sharad Pawar at his Mumbai residence to convince him to drop the idea of resigning. After the meeting, his nephew Ajit Pawar announced that his uncle will take the "final decision" within two-three days. He also urged party workers not to hold protests and to respect Sharad Pawar’s decision. "We have urged Pawar Saheb not to resign. Considering the strong sentiments expressed by NCP workers, he has agreed to reconsider his decision. He has sought two-three days’ time to take the final decision," Ajit Pawar said.

Former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who was also present at the meeting at Sharad Pawar’s residence, said: "We have suggested to him that he should not resign from the post of party president. If he wants, he should appoint an executive president."

A reliable source in the NCP said that Supriya Sule will be appointed either as president or executive president. "In the meeting held at his residence, Sharad Pawar was firm on his decision. He agreed to consider the request by other leaders, but he will not change his decision. Supriya Sule could be appointed as the next party president," the source said.

For long, Sharad Pawar has been trying to hand over the reins to his daughter. However, nephew Ajit Pawar is also a strong candidate to succeed his uncle. Ajit also has firm control over the party and he is popular among the youth workers.

After Sharad Pawar announced his decision to step down, Ajit Pawar was the only NCP leader to support it. He told other leaders and party workers not to be emotional about it as sooner or later, Sharad Pawar had to hand over the party to someone else.

When party workers urged Supriya Sule to ask her father to change his decision, Ajit did not allow her to speak. "I am her elder brother and that is why I am asking her not to speak. Others have no business to meddle," he told party workers.

Earlier, speaking at the release of his autobiography, Mr Sharad Pawar announced that he has decided to step down as NCP president. After talking about his political journey since 1960, Mr Pawar said: "After this prolonged period of political career from May 1, 1960 to May 1, 2023, it is necessary to stop. Hence, I have decided to step down as president of the Nationalist Congress Party."

Mr Pawar further said that he would not contest elections after completing the remaining three years of tenure in the Rajya Sabha.

However, the NCP chief said he would not take retirement from public life even after resigning from the party post. "I am not retiring from public life. Constant travel has become an integral part of my life. I will continue attending public events, and meetings. Whether in Pune, Mumbai, Baramati, Delhi or any other part of India, I will be available to all of you as usual. I will continue to work around the clock to solve the people’s problems," he said.

 "After this prolonged political career, one must think about stopping somewhere. One must not be greedy. You might feel uncomfortable. But I have decided to retire from the post of NCP chief," Mr Pawar further said.

As expected, there were strong reactions in the NCP. All NCP leaders, except for Ajit Pawar, urged him to take back his recognition. Leaders like state NCP president Jayant Patil and Jitendra Awhad even cried while urging the NCP chief not to step down.

Hostilities between Mr Patil and Ajit Pawar are well known in political circles. With tears in his eyes, Mr Patil said: "All of us will resign. Let the party be run by whoever wants it."

However, Ajit supported Sharad Pawar’s decision. "There is no need to get emotional; Sharad Pawar will continue to guide the party even after resigning. Everyone has to take a decision according to time, Pawar Saheb has taken a decision and he won’t take it back. He may have felt that it was better to give charge to someone else while he is there. He can guide and train the new president. All of us will support him," he said.

Praful Patel, who was the first one to urge Mr Pawar not to resign, later said that people must respect Sharad Pawar’s decision considering his age. "We are all members of Sharad Pawar’s family. We all have grown under his patronage. We will try to convince him. We also appeal you all to accept the decisions that have been made," the former Union minister said.

Reacting to the development, Maharashtra deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis said Sharad Pawar’s decision to resign was his party’s internal matter. He said: "It is his personal decision. He is a senior leader and he has decided something. Brainstorming over several issues is going on within his party. So, it will not be right for us to react to this. We will keep an eye on the situation and react after a day or two."

However, social activist and former Aam Aadmi Party leader Anjali Damania said that the BJP was behind Mr Pawar’s decision. She claimed that the BJP wants the NCP as its ally, but without Sharad Pawar. "I am not surprised. Sharad Pawar had two options. Either he had to witness a split in his party as Ajit Pawar has made up his mind to join hands with the BJP. Or he had to step down to save his party from the split. He chose the second option," Ms Damania said.