Mumbai: Veteran politician and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has tightened control over his beleaguered organization, which was routed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena alliance in the Lok Sabha elections and is facing a tough fight in the assembly polls that are a little more than three months away.

The NCP leader swung into action soon after the results of the Lok Sabha elections were announced on 23 May to review the performance of the party in the polls and to gear it up for the assembly elections that are likely to be held in October.

Pawar has indicated that he would himself lead the NCP’s campaign in the assembly elections, instead of delegating the responsibility to the younger NCP leadership, which includes his daughter and member of Parliament Supriya Sule and nephew and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar.

NCP leaders and political observers say Pawar, who has been chief minister of Maharashtra three times but has never completed a full term, is conscious of the “credibility deficit and disconnect" the younger generation of NCP leaders have.

“If it was a normal election, Pawar saheb would not have taken so much of interest. In fact, he would have left it to Supriya tai, Ajit dada, and state unit president Jayantrao Patil, and he would have just remained a star campaigner. However, the Lok Sabha election results have made Pawar saheb and all of us conscious of the scale of the challenge ahead and his experience and political acumen are necessary to revive the party," said a state NCP leader on the condition of anonymity.

Another NCP leader and legislator claimed that Sharad Pawar was the “only politician" in Maharashtra who had “statewide" appeal and could relate to every section of the society, including “farmers, women, youth, and minorities". “No other politician has this kind of stature in Maharashtra. Ajit dada and Supriya tai are very capable on their own but they do not have the kind of stature Pawar saheb has. They have very limited acceptability in regions such as Vidarbha and Marathwada," the NCP legislator said requesting anonymity.

Pawar has been busy since 23 May. As the results of the Lok Sabha elections came in, he said the NCP accepted the people’s mandate but raised questions over the functioning of the electronic voting machines. On 25 May, Pawar was visiting some of the most drought-hit parts of Satara district.

Even during the Lok Sabha elections, Pawar had made several visits to the drought-affected regions and reached out to farmers, the NCP legislator quoted above pointed out. “The fact that he resumed his drought tour immediately despite such a disastrous mandate for us proves his commitment to the farmers and real issues. He also showed other Opposition leaders not only in Maharashtra but also elsewhere that we don’t have to give up the fight and that we must keep our morale high," the NCP legislator said.

On 1 June, Pawar held a review meeting with all NCP legislators and MPs. In an apparently morale-boosting gesture, the NCP chief told senior party members that voters thought differently in each election and it was not necessary that the Lok Sabha mandate would be replicated in the assembly polls.

“The assembly elections are only some 100-odd days away and we have to leave the Lok Sabha election behind," he said.

On 7 June, Pawar met chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to demand that drought-relief measures be continued. The NCP observed its 20th foundation day on 10 June with Pawar exhorting the party to return to power in Maharashtra. On 13 and 14 June, Pawar met NCP district office-bearers and leaders from 8 districts and conducted a district-level assessment of the party’s preparation for the Assembly polls. He followed it up with another series of district-level meetings a week later on 21 and 22 June.

Prakash Pawar, a political commentator and professor of political science at Kolhapur’s Shivaji University, interprets the NCP chief’s pro-active role in the last one month as both NCP’s handicap and only strength. “The NCP is totally down in the dumps and it needs to go back to the people with a totally new ideological programme. The younger generation in the NCP including Ajit Pawar and Supriya Sule are good executioners of programmes but cannot imagine a new blueprint themselves. Sharad Pawar is the only hope the NCP has to attempt an ideological overahaul before the assembly elections but I doubt if even he can do that given his age," said Prakash Pawar.

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