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Raj Thackeray and Sharad Pawar: The state's struggling stalwarts

Their divergent views apart, both Sharad Pawar and Raj Thackeray command, in turns, attention, curiosity, derision and criticism in equal measure

Their divergent views apart, both Sharad Pawar and Raj Thackeray command, in turns, attention, curiosity, derision and criticism in equal measure. But that’s where the similarities end. Their methods and politics are radically different.
Both Pawar and Raj appear to be struggling these days to consolidate their political positions, with their parties standing at the crossroads. While Pawar is not sure what lies in store for NCP’s troubled alliance with the Congress in the approaching Lok Sabha elections, Thackeray isn’t sure either how the absence of any ally will work out for his party.

Labelled a volatile, unpredictable leader, Pawar feels he cannot go along with Rahul Gandhi and has expressed his reservations about working under him. Anticipating trouble, Pawar decided to jump the gun, and asked his party to start working on all the 22 Lok Sabha constituencies that NCP had contested from in the last election. But Congress’ subsequent unwillingness to allocate these 22 seats to NCP came as a rude shock to the party.

It was only after his Man Friday Praful Patel warned Congress that all options were open to the party that the Congress responded and CM Prithviraj Chavan met him on Friday. It can be safely said that Pawar has been feeling alienated in the UPA. This growing insecurity was only compounded when the AICC issued a directive asking his party to get in touch with state Congress leaders. Pawar and Patel were both caught off-guard, and were heard saying that the seat-sharing formula had already been finalised in Delhi.

The time has come for Pawar to take some tough decisions — whether to fight the next NCP elections alone, or join forces with other anti-Congress forces to float a new front. While Patel met Chavan, there have been reports that Pawar has also met Gujarat CM Narendra Modi secretly at New Delhi on January 17. It seems that Pawar is keeping all his options open, and may play a major role in consolidating the Third Front, along with Samajwadi Party and Janata Dal (United).

Even though NCP stands at an uncertain juncture, Pawar’s sworn political enemies admit that he can upset any candidate’s chances, thanks to his clout, and rapport with leaders across party lines. He updates himself regularly on local politics. His knowledge about caste, religious equations and local issues is undisputable. Using these skills, he defeated Prithviraj Chavan in Karad back in 1999, after the seat had been won by Chavan, and his parents before that, for a record 10 times since 1957. But NCP’s fortunes turned when a series of scams revealed the involvement of some of the party’s big guns, in turn tainting the party.

MNS chief Raj Thackeray, who earlier expressed his admiration for Narendra Modi and the work he had done in Gujarat, was considered the party most likely to tie up with BJP, Shiv Sena or RPI in Maharashtra. But his comment against Modi has dashed any hope (of a tie-up with BJP. And any chance of his entry into the NDA is stiffly resisted by his cousin, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.

With the advent of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on the political horizon, Raj has lost the kind of attention he had been receiving for the past few years. The fact that he is often incommunicado for his party workers and leaders seems to have made matters worse for MNS. The cadre is now an unsure lot, in the absence of any visible agenda for the party.

Whispers have been heard that they often fail to get any concrete responses on particular issues from Raj.
Realising this, Raj recently flashed an old trump card, in the form of a renewed agitation against toll collection, to attract public attention. But it’s a tad too late and nobody is convinced or enthused. With the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance getting stronger under the Mahayuti banner and AAP making a strong pitch in the state, Raj has many forces to reckon with in the state.

Raj respects Pawar and admires his political skill. It will be interesting to watch how these two men fight their individual battles for survival in the days to come.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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