It seems that NCP chief Sharad Pawar is not content with proving that he continues to be a grandmaster of the political chessboard despite his age. After the declaration of Maharashtra Assembly poll results, Sharad began by making statements that the mandate for his party was to sit in the Opposition but ended up installing a government of his choice and keeping the largest single party, the BJP, out of power in the state which is considered to be a financial powerhouse of the country.
What has happened thereafter, especially in the past three days, is even more interesting and of great significance, to get a perspective on the persona of the Maratha strongman. Sharad has given a series of interviews over the last few days. His interviews with ABP Majha and NDTV have been particularly revealing. They are somewhat embarrassing for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, but after going through what he said during the course of the interviews, one wonders whether his intent was to take a dig at the BJP leadership or was it something else.
After all, Sharad has been in politics for long. He had been the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and Union minister on multiple occasions. He runs his own party and is an important national leader with a strong regional base, and has worked with various prime ministers, chief ministers and top leaders of various parties, national and regional included. And throughout his political career, he has kept their confidence.
But on this occasion, he publically revealed that what transpired between him and Modi during his longish meeting at the latter’s official chamber in the Parliament House, days before a prolonged drama in Maharashtra reached to a conclusion. He surely was making an exception to his rule, an unwritten rule which broadly applies to the top echelon of the political class. In an interview with ABP Majha, Sharad had said, "When I was about to leave after discussing the agrarian crisis, especially after my visit to Vidarbha, the prime minister asked me to wait and said he will be happy to work together with me in the country… An offer was made to make Supriya Sule (Sharad's daughter) a minister at the Centre and form a joint government of the NCP and the BJP in Maharashtra.” Sharad rejected the Modi’s offer.
There is no reason to doubt the veracity of Sharad’s claim, at least till a formal denial is issued by the other side. Sharad has revealed what transpired in his one to one meeting with the prime minister.
It should be noted that after the declaration of the 2014 Maharashtra Assembly election, Sharad’s NCP had made an unconditional offer to support the BJP (which then also had emerged as the single largest party with 122 seats and the NCP had 62 in the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly), but the BJP then chose to wait for the Shiv Sena’s support to form government.
On the surface of it, as newly initiated students of politics may perceive, Sharad could have gained more by accepting Modi’s offer during his visit to Delhi. His daughter would have become a Union minister, gained stature and experience, and her leadership would have been settled in the state and outside. As partners in the BJP-led government in Maharashtra, he would have gotten the deputy chief minister’s post for his nominee and the almost the same number of portfolios as he would get in the present Uddhav Thackeray government. He would also have been a key ally in BJP-led NDA at the Centre.
But Sharad decided otherwise. He chose not to partner with the ruling BJP at the Centre and rather be larger than life leader in the state.
Sharad’s Tuesday interview with the NDTV is again very interesting where he publicly admitted that he knew that his nephew Ajit Pawar was in talks with Devendra Fadnavis even as the talks between the Shiv Sena, Congress and the NCP were progressing. In Sharad’s own words Ajit was unhappy over the way the power-sharing talks were progressing and blamed the Congress for Ajit’s anger, specifically referring to the 22 November “heated discussions” between the Congress and the NCP where the former was demanding extra portfolios in the next government. "I walked out. Ajit also walked out and told my colleagues I don’t know how we will be able to work in the coming days. That night he had a meeting with Devendra Fadnavais," Sharad said in the interview.
Sharad’s claims that his nephew Ajit didn’t have his blessing in his talks with Fadnavis or what unfolded in the next 24 hours, was as per script. It was a well-conceived game and ensures that the matter — whether the senior Pawar led the BJP to the garden path, or, his nephew staged a 24-hour long rebellion on his own — remains as a speculation in the public space. Sharad’s continued softness and fondness for Ajit — talking about how the latter commands “full respect” of workers and how they pardoned him after his apology and indications that he could yet again be sworn-in as deputy chief minister — provides enough fodder to keep the speculations going.
And, by doing so, Pawar has clearly established that he holds the key to the Uddhav Thackeray-led government. He controlled the talks — structured or unstructured with the Shiv Sena and Congress. Uddhav and the Shiv Sena owe a great deal to him. And Sanjay Raut has made their reverence for Pawar clear on more than one occasion. Congress has no standing to counter him at the state or the Centre. Courtesy him, Congress is today sharing power in Maharashtra.
Sharad says that it was easier for him to work with the Shiv Sena than with the BJP. That could be true, more so because he would have been a junior partner with the BJP in the state and a minor partner with four Lok Sabha MPs at the Centre in the BJP-led NDA.
What he didn’t tell — by doing what he did in the past fortnight and by publically declaring that he declined the power-sharing offer by the prime minister and instead decided to go with the Shiv Sena — is that he has positioned himself as much more than an ally of the Shiv Sena and the Congress. The senior Pawar has positioned himself as the super chief minister of the state, a status Bal Thackeray enjoyed in the mid and late 1990s when the Shiv Sena had for the first time helmed Maharashtra.
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Updated Date: Dec 04, 2019 17:19:07 IST