If there was a weather forecast bureau for politics, Sharad Pawar could easily qualify for heading it. In his prolonged political voyage, the NCP boss has been fairly correct in fathoming the depths of choppy waters and the direction in which the wind flows.
Pawar does verify the strength of his own sails before he sets out to manoeuvre his boat, and if his sails are too weak to withstand the storm, he doesn’t shy away from boarding other vessels within his reach (in many cases, he has destroyed them after making it to his destination). He continues to live the expression ‘down but not out’ by playing like an all-rounder of superior quality in the most difficult match conditions. He preserves a rare expertise needed for fooling his opponents, who can hardly see what comes next from his arsenal.
The latest masterstroke from Pawar is his preparedness to patch up with previous allies, like the Congress. It has come at a time when Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi has been fanning the anti-Modi sentiments in view of the agrarian crisis, which is compounded by a controversy surrounding the land acquisition law. Gandhi’s comeback is noticeable, especially in view of his much-criticised hibernation.
In fact, the political pundits expected Pawar to chide Gandhi over his vacation, as the entire world (including some people in the Congress) has been doing. But, to everyone’s surprise, the NCP chief took a break from Rahul-bashing, and declared he was willing to have a new alliance of all progressive parties. Since one such ‘company’ is already formed by the Janata Parivar, one can safely say that Pawar has other non-BJP parties on his radar.
The speech Pawar made last week in Mumbai, after re-naming Sunil Tatkare the state NCP head, suggested a changing political discourse. It is more significant when the BJP-led government at the Centre, which completes one year in the office this month, and a six-month-old regime in Maharashtra, are under scrutiny for their performance.
This is a departure from the position Pawar had taken immediately after the Assembly polls. He had extended unconditional support to the BJP’s minority government, citing that the state needed a stable government. That was seen as a tacit understanding between the BJP and NCP to force the second biggest party in the state Assembly, the Shiv Sena, to join the Devendra Fadnavis cabinet unconditionally. Later, PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Pawar’s hometown, Baramati, strengthened the perception that the BJP-Pawar bond had thickened further. But Pawar somehow dented this popular understanding by opposing the land acquisition law, and now he is out to play the game he is best at.
Pawar’s posturing is not without solid reason. The NCP has remained in power in Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation despite the BJP-Sena going strong in their campaign. The BJP failed miserably in both Navi Mumbai and Aurangabad even as the Sena put up a good show wherever the two fought as allies. The Sena won power, albeit in association with the BJP, in Aurangabad and performed better in Navi Mumbai. It also won some smaller civic bodies fighting against the BJP.
Pawar must have thought of tapping the anti-establishment feeling that could gradually turn entirely against the BJP, if worked systematically. The Congress has not been able to leave last year’s sound drubbing behind, even though a section in the party feels that Gandhi is making the right noises against the BJP. However, most people in the Congress are not still very sure of their leader’s consistency and political acumen.
It will also be interesting to see how the BJP and Sena cohabit in an atmosphere that the Pawar-fired opposition will try to render unsuitable for them to partner any further. The Sena is apprehensive; actually it does not trust the BJP any longer. It is desperate to outwit the BJP more than any other party. The current partners in the state and Centre are most likely to separate ahead of the Mumbai civic polls to be held in 2017. The demand for separation has been raised by the sainiks, who have been blaming their undoing in many sectors on the BJP’s shrewd game plan.
In such a situation, the possibility of a seasoned Pawar bowling his doosras cannot be ruled out.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day