Why is it that NCP chief Sharad Pawar opted out of being the Opposition candidate for president?
It is the highest office in the land. The highest goal to which man can aspire. Those who hold it, even for a term, retire for good afterwards.
No one knows Pawar's reasons. He has chosen to stay mum, which invites speculation. Here are some questions that I have. Hopefully they help us better understand the man who always keeps his cards close to his vest.
Maybe he smells the possibility of Narendra Modi suddenly reaching out to the Opposition for a consensus. Does he hope to benefit from this? Is that why Modi said at Baramati that Pawar handheld him through his early days in politics? If that was likely, why would Pawar spoil his chances?
After all, given the huge deficit of collegiate votes staring the Opposition in the face, Modi has the upper hand. If Pawar were not to be the candidate for the top job, either as a consensus candidate or the Opposition's choice, why scupper his chances of being vice-president?
This office normally becomes a bargaining chip in the consensus-building process, and includes the responsibility of also being the presiding officer of the Rajya Sabha, of which Pawar is a member. Curiously, after his "retirement from politics" Pawar not only heads his party, but is also in the Upper House of Parliament.
Pawar is a brilliant bargainer: His protege, Sudhakarrao Naik, who later fell out with Pawar, once told me that when dealing with him, one had to play a combination of poker and chess. Who knows what card Pawar can pull from his sleeve? Perhaps that is why he reportedly said that names were not to be discussed in a meeting of 31 people as it could "create confusion."
The Indian Express reported on Saturday: "Pawar said a smaller committee of three or four leaders should be formed to discuss and decide the candidates, a suggestion which was accepted." This is typical of one of the most canny negotiators, who, during his time as chief minister, was roped in to bring a reconciliation between members of a Maharashtra royal family.
Regardless of whether the candidate is Pawar or someone else, the savvy veteran will likely push for a consensus. He is the type of leader who would like to see a bitter contest avoided, especially if it were unlikely to produce a result in favour of the Opposition. Any leak from the Opposition could also derail the game plan and prove an embarrassment. Perhaps that could be the source of his caution and advocacy in favour of an empowered ginger group.
With the warring CPM and Trinamool Congress from West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh's Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samajwadi Party being at odds, any discussions could be perilous. Hence, Pawar's suggestion of a "smaller committee."
My guess: While Pawar may or may not end being president, he will have an important role in the run up to the presidential election.
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Updated Date: May 27, 2017 20:01:04 IST