Was it a simply Maharashtrian camaraderie which prompted Sharad Pawar to endorse Nitin Gadkari as a “responsible man who works responsibly” in connection with Team Kejriwal’s allegations of land-grab against the BJP chief or was the wily Maratha strongman sending a different message?
One thing is sure; his response on the subject in an interview with CNN-IBN has by far eclipsed the charges made against him by former IPS officer-turned-activist lawyer YP Singh. Pawar’s response, rather than Singh’s allegations, have become the talking point in Delhi’s power corridors. More so in the BJP.
“There is nothing new in the charges made against him (Pawar). Over the years we have accepted him with all his virtues and vices,” a UPA leader said.
The response of an NDA leader was broadly the same. “Nothing can stick on Pawar for long. Logon ko bhi, aur hame bhi pata hai who waise hi hain (Both the people and the political class have known him to be like that),” the leader said.
Cutting across party lines, leaders believe that Pawar’s strength lies in his connections and political grasp. They believe that he will sail through even this without getting hurt.
It is in this context that a good number of leaders believe that there must have been a motive and context for Pawar’s elaborate defence of Gadkari, even if by doing so he was also seeking to protect his nephew Ajit Pawar and his party, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which is in the eye of a political storm over the Maharashtra irrigation scam. A BJP leader said, “Pawar has given a factual narrative about Gadkari but then it has some inherent connotations for the Congress, that he may opt for another option should he feel that he was not being handled with due dignity.”
But another BJP leader from Maharashtra differs. “It is wrong to attach any political motive to his total endorsement of Gadkari. Maharashtra has a different political culture, where it is not out of place to stand by a leader from a rival political formation on the issue of development of the state. (This is almost repeating something that Pawar said in his interview). Pawar can’t afford to walk out of the UPA, at least now. He has too much at stake both in the state and at the centre.”
The BJP leader said Pawar called him late on the day Kejriwal and Anjali Damania made their “expose” on Gadkari. According to him, Pawar said he was “deeply distressed” over the kind of allegations that were made against Gadkari.
“If this is the way development work in the state was targeted or painted black, it would create a great deal of negativity, particularly outside the state. He wanted to speak out on the subject,” he said.
Indeed, he spoke out next day. More in favour of Gadkari, less in his own defence.
Insiders suggest Gadkari was initiated into organising sugar cooperatives in Vidarbha by Pawar. It was again Pawar’s idea that since good quality sugarcane was not available in that region, he should grow good saplings to be distributed among farmers at subsidised rates. A sugar factory can be viable only if quality sugarcane is farmed in the neighborhood and appropriately supplied to the factory concerned.
Another UPA leader explained that Pawar had been able to hold on to his reputation despite all such allegations, including the one levelled against him yesterday by YP Singh. His strength comes from two factors: he has immense control over cooperatives in Western Maharashtra and, consequently, commands influence over various communities. Second, Pawar is more of a political strategist than a fighter, something that suits the political dispensation of the day. Perhaps that was the reason why the Congress President chose to consult him first when she began meeting alliance partners on the presidential elections.
It was not without reason that the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, during a debate on price rise in Parliament, referred to Pawar as “Chini Samrat (sugar king)”.
Gadkari seems to have learnt a few tricks of the trade from Pawar. He turned the Kejriwal-Damania expose into some kind of a show of strength for himself, making both the RSS and the BJP stand closely by his side; he also made Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray endorse his “goodness”; the supposed farmer victim at the centre of the Kejriwal expose – Gajanan Ghadge – also came out to reject the India Against Corruption (IAC) charge and claimed ownership of 10,000 shares of the Gadkari-promoted sugar factory. YP Singh’s criticism of fellow traveller Kejriwal for hyping a non-scam (Gadkari’s) while ignoring the big one (Pawar’s) also helped Gadkari.
Years ago, ahead of a parliamentary elections, LK Advani, then at the helm as Deputy Prime Minister, had quietly landed in Mumbai to work out a BJP-Shiv-Sena-NCP combination. The idea died a premature death because Bal Thackeray didn’t like it at all. But then, politics is always called the art of the possible.