Even his bitter critics and staunch rivals admire the political acumen of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who has been in electoral politics for the past 47 years. He is known for his calculated statements, the full meaning of which become clear only weeks or months later. Even Raj Thackeray admitted a few days ago that at least six months pass before Pawar’s declarations can be fully comprehended.
Considering this kind of reputation, a few statements made by him recently have baffled his friends, foes and followers alike. The first statement made a few weeks ago about ‘double voting’ was so shocking from a man of his political stature that it made him the subject of a full-fledged investigation by the Election Commission. Pawar was speaking at a porters’ rally last Sunday, when he asked the workers to wipe the indelible ink from their fingers and vote again. “Vote for NCP in Satara, then come to vote in Mumbai but make sure to wipe off the ink on your finger or it could lead to trouble,” Pawar was heard saying in Marathi during his speech. He later retracted the statement in the face of an outcry, passing it off as a ‘joke.’ The statement was unbecoming of a man who has never lost an election in the last 47 years, besides being a member of union cabinets. Such callous statements have the potential to shake the very foundation of the democratic process.
The more recent statements that plunged him deeper into controversy are those about the Congress party’s decision to nominate ex-CM Ashok Chavan for the Nanded Lok Sabha constituency, even though he was found guilty of corruption in the Adarsh Housing Society scam by the two-member Adarsh inquiry panel, headed by justice (retd) J A Patil. Chavan’s nomination has earned the Congress scathing criticism, ever since the decision was declared. Pawar, however, sought to give Chavan a clean chit, saying that ‘allotting a flat to a close relative’ was not a scam. “I wouldn’t call it a scam,” he insisted. To make things worse, he added that he didn’t think that the Adarsh scam was a “big deal”.
If anyone thought that this was a gesture of support for the UPA government, Pawar was quick to prove them wrong.
Close on the heels of his ‘support’ for Ashok Chavan, he bitterly criticised the Congress for flip-flops in the Adarsh case, and blamed the party for messing up the matter. Perhaps oblivious to his own ‘flip flop’ in the matter, he asserted, “Adarsh was mishandled by the Congress. They overruled the state’s decision to reject the report and asked Ashok Chavan to resign. They wanted to portray that they took a bold decision, but now they are taking completely different stand [by fielding Chavan from Nanded]. They had to retract their steps.”
Training his guns on the Congress vice-president, he said, “It was Rahul Gandhi who openly criticised Maharashtra government’s decision to reject the Adarsh Commission report. Also the central cabinet had to take its decision on the ordinance back.” The wily Pawar found an easy target in Gandhi, who had first objected to the Prithviraj Chavan-led state government’s decision to reject the inquiry report.
In this scathing indictment of the Congress party’s ways, Pawar laid bare the Congress party’s indecision and utter lack of coordination — criticism that may cost the party the support of the first-time voters in the country this April. Nor can the party now assert, with any honesty, its anti-corruption stance, which it has been using as a trump card ever since the passing of the Jan Lokpal Bill. Pawar’s statements added fuel to the fire of discontent raging in the hearts of many bitter, disillusioned voters in the country.
It’s no longer a secret that Pawar is unhappy with Rahul Gandhi and his impulsive style of decision-making. He made unambiguously critical remarks about him, saying that party decisions shouldn’t change ‘because someone is saying something.’ Making his disapproval of Rahul clear, Pawar said that if the UPA formed the government in future, he would not be part of it, but would appoint a member of the younger generation from his party in the cabinet.
While Pawar has made his role clear — or the lack of it — in a potential UPA alliance in the future, it remains to be seen what his stance will be if the NDA assumes power in Delhi, under Narendra Modi.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day