Sharad Pawar and Gopinath Munde, two stalwarts in state politics who represent Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the national-level respectively, will be celebrating their birthdays today. The day, is the first day of the winter session of the State Legislature and most of their supporters are either in Nagpur or at their respective districts, camping for the ongoing elections for 190 plus civic bodies.
Both Pawar and Munde share quite a few similarities, and the most notable one is their workaholic nature. Both the leaders are mostly found touring across the state, and their zeal is quite appreciable. Pawar, who is 71, now, is 10 years senior to Munde. During 1992 to 1995, Munde was spearheading a campaign against Pawar, who was then the chief minister and the state had witnessed a fierce political battle.
History witnessed the hectic political developments that followed with BJP assuming power along with its senior ally Shiv Sena. Post-Congress' defeat in 1995, Pawar shifted his base from state to national politics (1996) and later in 1999, a few months before the general elections to the State Assembly, he floated NCP and joined hands with Congress to share power.
Since then, Pawar has become an ally of the Congress-led Democratic Front government in the state and UPA at the Centre, where he is Union Minister for Agriculture since 2004. However, it is a complete reversal for Munde, who has not tasted benefits of power since Sena-BJP lost to Congress-NCP in 1999 at state-level and BJP-led NDA at Centre in 2004.
Today, Pawar is busy strengthening his party's position by making clever moves in the state as well as at the national-level. Though he is currently an important part of the UPA, one cannot predict his next move for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. This assumption has a base, if one has a look at the recent issue of Rashtravadi, his party mouthpiece, with interviews by Narendra Modi and Prakashsingh Badal. Their political outfits, BJP and Akali Dal have been an integral part of the NDA, but both have bestowed praises on Pawar for his leadership.
The timing of these interviews is quite significant when Pawar himself was seen at two important functions: firstly at a felicitation ceremony of Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi with Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai and secondly, at a function in Ratnagiri with the BJP patriarch, L K Advani.
Significantly, despite an announcement that NCP and Congress will fight elections to the 190 plus civic bodies across the state, the NCP is fighting 101 on its own. The alliance with Congress exists at just 17 civic bodies and the NCP has joined hands with local fronts sans Congress at 21 civic bodies. Clearly, by winning maximum civic bodies and local bodies, NCP wants to expand its base to attain number one position in the next general elections due in 2014.
Ironically, the same cannot be said about Munde who, after the demise of his brother-in-law Pramod Mahajan, lost his prominence in the saffron party. On a couple of occasions, he tried to regain his lost ground: first, when Madhu Chavan was nominated as the Mumbai BJP chief and later, when Vikas Mathkari was nominated as the Pune BJP chief, but to avail.
BJP leadership tried to pacify Munde, who once led the State BJP unit with immense powers by appointing him as party's deputy leader in Lok Sabha and chief of the prestigious Public Accounts Committee. Later, he was divested of the second assignment and was demoted to chief of the standing committee for Chemicals and Fertilizers Department.
Much water has flown under the bridge since Munde waged a political war against Pawar in the 90s. He got his due when his party installed him as the deputy CM in the Sena-led government during 1995 to 1999. RPI leader Ramdas Athawale's has recently announced that he has been promised deputy chief minister's chair if the saffron combine wins the elections.
Lastly, at the twilight of their political careers, both Pawar and Munde, have their daughters and nephews active in the state politics. NCP workers cannot predict as to who will be his successor to lead the party: daughter Supriya or nephew Ajit Pawar. On the other side, Munde's political heir will be his daughter Pankaja Palwe, who is a member of the State Assembly. His nephew Dhananjay Munde, despite being the BJP's member in State Legislative Council, is always found in constant touch with the NCP leaders. Even Munde's supporters cannot vouch for Dhananjay's loyalty with his uncle anymore.
-- The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY