Lok Sabha polls: Baramati big battle looms as Supriya Sule versus Sunetra Pawar buzz grows

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Two months ago when Maharashtra Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar was asked if his faction of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) will put up a candidate from the Lok Sabha constituency of Baramati, the pocket borough of the Pawar clan, against his the cousin Sharad Pawar‘s daughter Supriya Sule, who is the sitting MP, he said, “Being the president of the party, I have the right to announce the candidates of my party, but I cannot comment on who will be contesting against them. I will announce the names of the candidates at the right time.”

The name hasn’t been announced yet but the buzz is Ajit Pawar’s wife Sunetra Pawar will be contesting against Sule. The fight, if it happens, will take the divide in the Pawar clan down to the family stronghold from where Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar and Supriya Pawar have won several assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

Early this month, the Election Commission of India declared Ajit Pawar’s faction, which had split away last year from patriarch Pawar and joined hands with the BJP, as the real Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

When Ajit Pawar had broken away from NCP last year, Sule had said that ideological differences led to the split in NCP but there was no divide in the Pawar family. “Some leaders in the party chose a different path based on certain ideology but it is an issue related to the party and not the family. NCP is not the Pawar family. The ideological differences are in the party and not in the family,” said Sule.

Ajit Pawar hinted at fielding his wife Sunetra as a Lok Sabha candidate from NCP bastion Baramati at a rally yesterday. “It will be the first election for the candidate I will name for Baramati seat…cast your ballot as if you are voting for Ajit Pawar,” he appealed to the people.

If Ajit’s wife Sunetra Pawar contests and defeats Sule from Baramati, it will be a rite of passage for NCP which will be seen as symbolic anointment of Ajit Pawar as the Pawar Senior’s successor.

Baramati, the Pawar stronghold

At present, the Baramati constituency is represented by Sharad Pawar’s daughter and working president of his NCP faction, Supriya Sule. She won the last three Lok Sabha elections from Pawar’s home turf Baramati, considered as the bastion of the Pawar family. Even during the “Modi wave” in 2014, Sule had managed to secure a win with a narrow margin.

From 1996 to 2004, Baramti had elected Sharad Pawar as MP and after him, 2009 to 2019, Sule has been winning from Baramati. One of the biggest LS constituencies in the state, Baramati has over six lakh voters in a mix of urban and rural populations.

Ajit had found support in Baramati right after his split from his uncle last year despite a strongly emotional appeal from Pawar Senior earlier which had rallied the cadre to the uncle’s support. The party split divided the supporters in Baramati town. While senior party workers continue to support their ‘Saheb’, the younger generation of the party workers is backing Ajit ‘Dada’ Pawar as their leader. Soon after Ajit Pawar took oath as the deputy chief minister at Raj Bhavan on Sunday afternoon, his supporters in Baramati celebrated by bursting crackers.

“Our political identity is due to Ajit Dada. He has brought the younger generation into politics, and we will go wherever he goes,” Jaydeep Taware, the former sarpanch of Malegaon village in Baramati, had told TOI.

Who is Sunetra Pawar?

Ajit Pawar’s wife Sunetra Ajit Pawar is a maverick and versatile personality, says her website. “Mrs. Pawar, founder of the Environmental Forum of India, an NGO founded in 2010, was a mentor in inculcating the concept of the eco-village in India. As India is a land of villages, it’s a revolution in and of itself. She serves as a trustee for the indigenous and well-known educational institution Vidya Pratishthan. She has been a Think Tank member of the World Entrepreneurship Forum in France since 2011.” She has also been the chairperson of the Baramati Hi-Tech Textile Park Ltd, a garment manufacturer’s park.

Sunetra, 60, is not new to politics though has been active on the ground through her social work. She is a sister of former state minister and Lok Sabha MP Padamsinh Patil, a close confidant of Sharad Pawar, whose son Ranajagjitsinha Patil is currently BJP MLA from Tuljapur in Dharashiv district.

Recently, NCP has been projecting Sunetra in Baramati through a publicity campaign. She has also been meeting local party cadre. This triggered speculation about her contesting against Sule from Baramati.

Recently, a banner in Baramati with the photographs of Sunetra and Ajit Pawar, declaring her as the party candidate from Baramati, was defaced by unknown people.

With Ajit winning the command of the party, since the Election Commission has declared his faction as the real NCP, Sule will have a tough fight from his wife. The contest, if it happens, will reveal if Ajit has won just the battle within the party his uncle had started and built up from ground or he has also won the battle at the Pawar family’s personal seat of power.

(With inputs from TOI)

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