Rohit Pawar, grandnephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, has been praising Aaditya Thackeray for his work and returning barbs of his political opponents.
Mumbai: Last week, after the Supreme Court directed all states to conduct final-year examinations, a University Grants Commission (UGC) decision that the Yuva Sena had challenged, BJP’s Ashish Shelar indirectly taunted Aaditya Thackeray, using the name of a popular Marathi television serial character ‘Babdya’, known to be a spoilt brat.
Shelar tweeted that it was because of one “Babdya’s” stubbornness that 10 lakh students in the state had to suffer mental stress.
Aaditya ignored the jibe, but a new friend rushed to his defence — 34-year-old Rohit Pawar, grandnephew of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar.
“Our role in the exams is not as political as yours, but was and will remain in the care of the students,” Rohit tweeted. “But @ShelarAshish if you had understood the problems of students instead of spending time watching Babdya’s serial, you would have understood this too.”
Rohit, also a first-time legislator like 30-year-old Aaditya, has of late always had the latter’s back, praising him for his work and returning barbs of his political opponents, showing signs of another potential Thackeray-Pawar friendship in Maharashtra’s political landscape.
“One can surely see signs of a budding friendship. Although physical meetings have reduced now due to Covid, the two leaders often discuss ideas and have similar political traits,” an NCP leader said. “Both have a penchant for innovative ideas, both are very savvy on social media, and both are dynasts with a large following.”
From grandfathers to grandsons
NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray were known to be thick friends, despite being each others’ arch rivals in politics.
They first met when the former was the youth Congress chief and the latter, a cartoonist at the Free Press Journal. Publicly, Thackeray bitterly criticised his friend in his speeches and cartoons, slamming him as “maidyacha pota (sack of flour)” and “mommaja (Mohammad)”. At the same time, Thackeray and Pawar families would share meals at the former’s suburban Bandra residence, Matoshree, and Thackeray would privately call Sharad Pawar, “Sharadbabu”.
Like the older men, the Aaditya-Rohit friendship too began when the two dynasts were on opposing political sides.
After the 2019 Maharashtra legislative assembly results, when both Aaditya and Rohit had triumphed in their debuts from Worli and Karjat-Jamkhed constituencies, respectively, the duo had a telephonic conversation congratulating each other.
Rohit is the grandson of Sharad Pawar’s elder brother, Appasaheb Pawar, and the son of the NCP chief’s nephew, Rajendra Pawar, and his wife Sunanda.
“The results had just been declared. There was no sign of the MVA (Maha Vikas Aghadi) at the time,” a Mumbai-based Shiv Sena leader said. “So, in a way in the new generation too you can see the same quality of the old leadership to have a friendship across political boundaries.”
Aaditya and Rohit’s interactions became more frequent amid the flurry of political activity after the elections. The Shiv Sena and the NCP were trying to cobble together an alliance with the Congress to stake claim on forming the government and keeping the BJP out of power.
“A few of us were in charge of keeping our MLAs together. At that time, some of us, including Aaditya Thackeray and Rohit Pawar, would sit down and have conversations over coffee,” the Shiv Sena leader said. “There’s a very cordial atmosphere between them. They listen to each other and take each others’ suggestions.”
Amid this political turmoil, a photo posted by NCP MP Supriya Sule, who has been frequenting the Thackeray household with her father, Sharad Pawar, since she was a child, was especially telling of the Thackeray-Pawar relations.
In the undated photo, posted on 24 November, four days before the MVA government was sworn in, Sule was posing with Aaditya and Rohit on either side. It was perhaps a veiled message to all those raising their eyebrows at an unnatural Shiv Sena-NCP tie-up that not only do the Thackerays and Pawars have strong old relations, but it is an association that transcends generations.
At the oath-taking ceremony on 28 November, much of the media glare was on Aaditya and Rohit as they shook hands and posed together at the Vidhan Bhavan entrance.
The Thackeray-Pawar scions
Since the swearing-in, the Thackeray and Pawar scions have often put their heads together for potential projects, and Rohit has frequently showered praise on Aaditya, who holds the tourism and environment portfolios.
In January, Rohit met Aaditya to discuss the conservation of Maharashtra’s heritage forts and the rejuvenation of the Indrayani river.
In April, when the state was under a lockdown, the alumni of a few renowned institutions met Rohit expressing their desire to volunteer for any Covid-related duties. Rohit called Aaditya, who promptly set up an hour-long video conference call with his friend to discuss this possibility. Rohit later tweeted plaudits for Aaditya for such a swift response.
Rohit has also rushed to Aaditya’s defence whenever the latter has found himself battling the opposition. Like his retort to former BJP minister Shelar, Rohit had also told off BJP state president Chandrakant Patil for questioning Aaditya’s lack of administrative experience.
“Instead of looking at Aaditya Thackeray’s experience, look at his work,” he had tweeted on 1 March. “Are you sure you are not talking about experience because in your government one person had got the chief minister’s post without any prior ministerial experience?” Rohit added in a potshot at former CM Devendra Fadnavis.
More recently, Rohit stood up for Aaditya when BJP leaders were insinuating the latter’s involvement in the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. In a statement on 4 August, Aaditya slammed the allegations as “rumours” and “dirty politics”.
Backing Aaditya’s statement, Rohit tweeted, “I completely agree with you about the low level of politics on display by some. The truth will eventually come out as I have full faith in our law enforcement agencies & Sushant will get justice. The people of #Maharashtra have always despised those indulging in dirty politics.”
In his birthday wishes to Aaditya on 13 June, Rohit described the young minister as someone who “truly nurtured the bond of pure friendship”.
Thanking Rohit, Aaditya replied, “We will always work together for the benefit of the people of Maharashtra.”
Aaditya, however, has more in common with Sharad Pawar’s other grandnephew, Parth Pawar, Deputy CM Ajit Pawar’s son.
Like Aaditya, Parth comes from an urban, English-speaking background. While Aaditya graduated from South Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College, Parth studied at the nearby HR College. Rohit, on the other hand, has been a more grassroots leader.
“Aaditya and Pawar share the same background, but Rohit is more politically involved,” said political commentator Pratap Asbe. “They have kept their families’ relations and are taking them forward. But then, Bal Thackeray’s and Sharad Pawar’s friendship was time-tested. Their personal bond was strong even when they were each others’ political rivals. For Aaditya and Rohit, we can see the seeds of friendship when they are on the same side, in the same government.”
“We will have to see how they are when they are on opposing sides,” he added.