Gen-next to watch out for in Maharashtra politics

They come from different backgrounds though most of them are from political families – all unified by ambition and a forward looking approach in politics. They are equally well-versed with the politics of power and know why realpolitik matters. HT profiles some of the young players who are out there to bring about change.

Over the past few years, Maharashtra’s politicians have been in the news for all the wrong reasons having traded their political ideologies for power. Alliances were formed to grab opportunities and splits engineered in parties to fulfil personal ambitions. People switched sides fearing action in corruption cases. We have seen three different governments being formed in a span of three-and-a-half years.

This has impacted young politicians in the state. Some feel their political futures are at stake, while others are in a dilemma about which side to choose. For some, this comes as an opportunity to prove themselves.

They come from different backgrounds though most of them are from political families – all unified by ambition and a forward looking approach in politics. They are equally well-versed with the politics of power and know why realpolitik matters. HT profiles some of the young players who are out there to bring about change.

Rohit Pawar, 37

Political party: NCP (Pawar faction) | Mentor: Sharad Pawar, NCP chief

Grand-nephew of Sharad Pawar, Rohit was CEO of Baramati Agro, founded by his grand father Appasaheb Pawar, elder brother of the NCP chief, till 2017 when he entered the political fray by contesting zilla parishad in Pune district. After working as ZP member for two years, in 2019, he contested assembly elections from Karjat-Jamkhed constituency in Ahmednagar outside the family’s pocket borough of Baramati and defeated BJP’s sitting MLA and then minister Ram Shinde.

Rohit is a fourth generation member of the Pawar family in politics. Following the split in the NCP led by Pawar’s nephew Ajit, Rohit is poised to play a bigger role in the party. He has been by Pawar’s side and was involved in damage control operation of the Pawar faction following the split.

An ambitious man, he is being mentored by Pawar himself. He is involved in the sugar sector and once was head of Indian Sugar Mills Association – this will help him in the politics of western Maharashtra where the sugar cooperative plays an important role.

He is active on social media and minces no words in criticising the ruling BJP on its policies and matters related to state. With a significant chunk of leaders from NCP toeing BJP’s line, the opposition secular space is an opportunity for young leaders. Rohit could fit the bill.

Rohit Pawar comes across as a modest and cultured politician. He is articulate and has shown political acumen which could make him a long-term player in Maharashtra politics. The current situation provides him a good opportunity to show his organisational and leadership skills. His future will depend on how he performs now. He will also have to face a strong force in the BJP-Ajit Pawar combine, saidHemant Desai, analyst.

Shrikant Eknath Shinde, 36

Political party: Shiv Sena | Mentor: Eknath Shinde, father and chief minister

An orthopaedic surgeon, Shrikant Shinde had no wish to join politics till his father’s party was locked in a tussle with BJP over the Kalyan Lok Sabha seat. Eknath Shinde who was Thane district Shiv Sena chief then accepted the challenge to win Kalyan constituency and fielded Shrikant as party candidate in 2014.

Shrikant largely kept to himself as MP till his father rebelled against Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. According to Sena insiders, Shrikant played a key role as the coup was planned and executed. After Shinde became chief minister and also got control of real Shiv Sena, Shrikant has become an undisputed number two in his camp. He handles multiple responsibilities, including building the party in Mumbai and preparing for civic polls. With Ajit Pawar-led NCP joining the Shiv Sena-BJP combine, Shrikant will have to rise up to the challenge.

In his first term as MP, Shrikant did not have much responsibility and he was limited to Kalyan and Dombivali. After Shinde became CM, Shrikrant has taken responsibility of expanding the party. He is one of the prominent leaders in the new generation, said Abhay Deshpande, analyst.

Praniti Shinde, 42

Political party: Congress | Mentor: Father and senior Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde

Three-term MLA from Solapur city, Praniti Shinde won her first assembly election in 2009. Her connect with voters in her constituency combined with the goodwill and election management skill of her father Sushil Kumar Shinde played an important role in her victory.

Praniti started her political journey in 2004, assisting her mother Ujjwala Shinde who was candidate for Solapur Lok Sabha constituency. Later she assisted her father in the campaign for assembly elections in 2004. As her father moved to national politics as union minister, she contested from a newly created Solapur city central constituency post delimitation, and entered the assembly for the first time. She has a good rapport with communities in her area, but is yet to create an identity as a state level leader.

She is a people’s person. Her understanding of contemporary challenges and issues faced by the gen-next is good. She is capable of becoming a promising leader in Congress but has failed to create a profile of a state-level leader, said Abhay Deshpande, analyst.

Dhiraj Vilasrao Deshmukh, 43

Political party: Congress | Mentor: Father Vilasrao Deshmukh and uncle Diliprao Deshmukh

Dhiraj, the youngest son of former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, operated his family businesses in the dairy and entertainment sectors, from his Lower Parel office until his father’s death in 2012.

He was elected as a member of the district council in Latur in 2017. In 2019, Dhiraj, an MBA from a London-based business school, was declared Congress candidate along with his elder brother and former minister Amit, who was the party’s candidate from neighbouring Latur city. Allegedly, Deshmukh family’s relations with leaders from rival Shiv Sena and BJP helped them win the seat. It is believed in the district that Sena and BJP exchanged Latur Rural with neighbouring Ausa as part of the division of seats between the two alliance partners to help Dhiraj.

Last year, the state government had ordered an inquiry into Dhiraj’s involvement in the Latur District Central Cooperative Bank allotting ₹116 crore to a newly-formed agro company by actor Riteish Deshmukh. Dhiraj is the chairman of the bank and the actor is his elder brother.

Dhiraj was served everything on a platter thanks to his legacy. Earlier, he was inaccessible as a leader, but he has mended his ways since – he was seen visiting the farmers in their fields after the downpour early this year which had resulted in heavy crop losses, said Arun Samudre, analyst.

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