Pawar play makes match exciting, unpredictable
NCP boss may or may not contest Lok Sabha polls from Madha but his role in the post-result mahagathbandhan will be a performance to watch out for
Sharad Pawar is one of the few leaders who has kept himself relevant in national politics, notwithstanding his party's strength (or lack of it) in the Parliament or in the state assemblies. The Nationalist Congress Party boss's attempts at the PM's post have failed in the past, yet his supporters have kept hope afloat, saying, "Sabeb ka time ayega'. It is another matter that Pawar laughs aloud whenever he is asked the question. He has said repeatedly that he wouldn't make it to the prime position with the numbers his Congress breakaway gets from Maharashtra.
Anything he says or refuses to say make headlines. Nobody can guarantee the outcome of his public statements. The unpredictability that his political manoeuvrings bring to him has impacted his credibility at times, and yet has made him friends across parties. Wouldn't it be the icing on the cake if the NCP manages to win good strength, making Pawar an important negotiator in the post-election management of mahagathbandhan? That way, he could safeguard NCP's interests and stake in the formation of the government, if any. Maybe things are moving in that direction already.
Pawar became a prime time talk last week when he said he was mulling a return to the Lok Sabha electoral arena from Madha, the place he had won in 2009 after delimitation of constituencies. In 2012, the then agriculture minister in the UPA-2, declared that he would not contest Lok Sabha polls to make way for young leadership. Daughter Supriya Sule, who first had a stint in the Rajya Sabha, has been holding up the family fiefdom of Baramati since 2009.
One reason behind Pawar, 78, considering a comeback to the lower house is the opposition within the party to replacing the incumbent MP Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, who is one of the founding members of NCP. Former bureaucrat Prabhakar Deshmukh had impressed upon Pawar that he be Mohite-Patil's replacement here, but the MP played smart and demanded that Pawar contest the elections from Madha. Mohite-Patil could always get compensated for his 'sacrifice' though an Assembly segment from where he won several elections was reserved. Three generations of Mohite-Patil have enjoyed power.
Pawar may not have agreed instantly, but the demand has gained traction from all over because the boss himself taking on the ruling party in a direct election would mean encouragement for other contestants, senior party leaders in particular. Some seniors are not willing to take up the Lok Sabha field. Party leadership expects to convince them in view of Pawar's indication.
Pawar's prediction for 2019 has no place for the Modi government's return. He says the non-BJP parties would gain more than the BJP (he refuses to predict the numbers though). He sees all opposition parties coming together after the Lok Sabha results to dethrone the BJP.
He says he does not see any possibility of a national mahagathbandhan, but would like all in the opposition to gather under the regional parties that are stronger in their respective states (NCP thinks of itself as one in Maharashtra). The seat-sharing should be done in respect of ensuring wins and not splitting votes. He says the opposition's joint rallies would he held in ten cities up north and down south. The formation will be like Mamata Banerjee's event in Kolkata that was attended by 22 non-BJP parties.
'Come on, all the best'
The BJP has been accused of being friendly with Pawar who had declared unconditional support to the BJP's minority government in Maharashtra even before all results were in. A public display of affection by Modi and Pawar had taken their respective supporters by surprise but the leaders who know the two weren't amused. Now electoral politics demand that the bonhomie be forgotten and attacks launched against each other.
Following Pawar's statement, BJP leaders have vowed to defeat him and Supriya. "It won't be victory if we win less than 45 seats. Let's take a pledge that these 45 seats will include Baramati," BJP president Amit Shah told party workers in Pune on Saturday. Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil has cautioned Pawar against contesting from Madha on health grounds and age. "If he is there and we get to contest Madha in seat-sharing with Sena, Pawar's defeat is certain," said Patil.
Undaunted as ever, Pawar has wished the BJP the best in Baramati and elsewhere, reminding the leaders that they shouldn't worry much about his health, and gave it back to BJP in a mischievous way by expressing a concern for Nitin Gadkari whose name is being projected as Modi's replacement. "Gadkari's name is being discussed for the PM's post. I'm happy because Gadkari is my friend, but at the same time, I worry about him," he said. Double-edged? You may interpret Mr Pawar any way you want.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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