Sharad Pawar defends Narendra Modi on Rafale: NCP chief underlines PM's credibility, undercuts Rahul Gandhi
Pawar implied that Rahul's belligerent attitude may backfire on the Congress
No one knows better than a seasoned Sharad Pawar what trust and credibility mean to a political leader. Pawar has been in politics for a long time. He has risen through the ranks and held several important positions: a three-time Maharashtra chief minister, ministerial portfolios at the Centre, helmed the BCCI and the ICC, been a foremost leader of the Congress. He's now leading his own party (NCP), and is perceived as a practical leader with the capacity to feel the popular pulse and with friends across the political spectrum. He is the most experienced and astute leader within the UPA ranks.
It thus becomes very significant when Pawar suggests that Rahul Gandhi and the Congress' relentless attempts to paint the Rafale deal as the National Democratic Alliance's Bofors—not to mention the Congress chief calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a "thief"—would have no public bearing because of Modi's credibility with the public.
Pawar may not have said it in so many words, but he implied that Rahul's belligerent attitude, if it did not resonate with the public, may backfire on the Congress. When asked in an interview by a Marathi channel on the allegations surrounding the Rafale deal and the credibility of the Congress leaders, Pawar said, “It’s not a question of credibility of Congress, but what is important is credibility of persons involved in the decision making process. What do people feel? They don’t doubt Modi’s intentions.”
Pawar statement comes even as Rahul and other Congress leaders are calling Modi a "chor", “commander-in-thief”, “thug ka sardar” on various forums, public rallies and social media. The NCP chief’s statement can be seen as a rebuttal of Congress president’s slogan: “Gali gali me shor hai, Hindustan ka chowkidar chor hai”. Pawar is telling Rahul the buzz on the Indian streets is rather different.
To be noted: Pawar has been one of the Congress' most reliable allies over the past 15 years, and he stands most tall in the ranks of the Opposition. His assertions, which question the political wisdom of Congress leadership, albeit not in so many words, may also have a bearing on proposed Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance).
BSP chief Mayawati the other tall leader of the possible Mahagathbandan—after all the hype by the Congress for an alliance in coming state Assembly elections in three North Indian states: Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh—parted ways with Congress. The bitterness and mutual distrust between Congress and BSP is apparent. For the moment, it appears unlikely the two will do away with all the bitterness (which could increase further in the run-up to these elections), join hands and fight as cohesive allies.
The questions surrounding Rahul's credibility have, so far, been hurting Congress. In fact, since the end of 2001, what has kept Modi going both as chief minister and then prime minister, winning successive state and parliamentary elections for the BJP despite a vilification campaign against him by the Congress, the Left and his other rivals, was his credibility as an administrator and a leader and the public not doubting his intentions or integrity. Pawar aptly summed it up.
BJP president Amit Shah thanked Pawar on Twitter “for placing national interest over party politics and speaking the truth”:
I thank Shri @PawarSpeaks Ji, a former Defence Minister and veteran MP, for placing national interests above party politics and speaking the truth.
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) September 27, 2018
In terms of the thinking of leaders both inside and outside the NDA, Pawar didn't say anything out of line. The difference is that Pawar said some things many others would only say in private. While his colleague Tariq Anwar felt anguished and quit the NCP, the fact remains that Anwar's eye is on Bihar and he needs RJD support to win in 2019. Quitting the NCP gives him the right launching pad to address his social constituency and seek support from Congress-RJD combine.
The Modi government has also not been on the receiving end of popular anger on two other issues: Demonetisation and rising petrol prices. Despite many people facing severe hardship due to demonetisation, the people trust Modi. Similarly on petrol, it is Modi's credibility that keeps the anger of the people at bay.
LK Advani, who was perceived to be Modi's mentor twenty-five years ago, used to say that the single most important thing in the public life of a leader is “credibility”. The government may not have put its best foot forward to counter the Congress' charges on Rafale, but people are still willing to go easy on it, at least for now. All this is down to Modi's credibility.
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