A quarter of a century after he founded the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Sharad Pawar has been told by Election Commission of India (EC) that he needs a new name and a symbol to stay in the game. EC has ruled that the NCP faction that rebelled against Pawar’s leadership and joined the NDA government will have ownership of the party. At 83, one of the canniest politicians in India, and a grassroots leader who has built and split parties multiple times, has to rebuild his house just ahead of the general elections. The repercussions are likely to be felt beyond the NCP and Maharashtra.
ECI arrived at its conclusion by accepting the rebel NCP faction’s contention that the test of strength has to be the headcount of legislators, and not influence within the organisation. This goes against the spirit of the apex court’s reading that the legislative unit has no life independent of the party. This is self-evident since the legislators fight elections from the platform of the party, on the party symbol, holding the party flag, and promising to implement the party agenda. In the case of the NCP split, Ajit Pawar, the leader of the rebellion, argued that the election of Sharad Pawar as party president in 2022 was not as per the provisions of the party constitution, and since the party’s internal elections were under a cloud, the organisation wing should not be considered to evaluate the strength of the factions. ECI concurred. A pertinent question in this context is: Is the anti-defection law relevant in its present form?
Sharad Pawar’s genius has been his ability to turn adversity to his advantage. How he deals with this new challenge — of losing the name and symbol of the party he built — will shape his political legacy.
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