Speculations are rife in political circles that NCP president Sharad Pawar is likely to be inducted a cabinet berth in the Modi government. Even Nitish Kumar led JD (U) might be allotted a cabinet berth for openly rebelling against the Congress. Minority community votes are important for them to retain a hold over their constituencies. However, there are also prominent leaders in the party without any grassroots connection, who have been nominated to the Rajya Sabha or Legislative Council. Before the presidential and vice-presidential elections, they had been debating whether the party should support the candidates of the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Opposition. While one group wanted to openly side with the BJP, the other was bitterly opposed to any attempt to abandon the party’s secular and socialist credentials to enter a saffron space dominated by the national ruling party and the Shiv Sena. There were also rumours that Sharad Pawars name would be proposed by NDA for presidential post of India but that did not happen, later on to pacify Pawar he was awarded with Padmashree. Still the over ambitious and greedy politician Pawar has been straddling two boats for a long time now and he is in danger of falling into deep waters. If you look at his political history, it is evident that he is an opportunist and most unpredictable politician ever.
In the recent past his intimacy with Modi has not gone down well with his voter base and this was reflected in the results to the civic polls in Maharashtra where NCP fared poorly, losing many of the civic bodies it held to the Shiv Sena or the BJP. For instance, his flip-flops on demonetization have been confusing his workers and his voters alike, and he is under terrific pressure to take a stand and clear the confusion.
While the Shiv Sena has perfected the art of having its cake and eating it too – being in government with the BJP and yet bitterly opposing its ally, thus occupying the opposition space as well – the Nationalist Congress Party is struggling to keep on the right side of a rising BJP and yet hold on to the Congress for its electoral fortunes. However, Pawar’s worry to rebuild his fading credentials of the party – by going back to the grassroots is biggest challenge of the time. It is unlikely that he will openly root for the BJP as his core base is Western Maharashtra, from where he gets maximum electoral returns. This is Chhatrapati Shivaji territory, and the Maratha ethos, despite its current problems with Dalits following the brutal Kopardi rape case, is a socialist one. In Marathwada, however, there has been tremendous resentment against Dalits since 1994 when Pawar, then the chief minister, renamed Aurangabad’s Marathwada University after BR Ambedkar. Pawar has sensed that breach and is making desperate efforts to recover lost ground here as nowhere else in Maharashtra does the NCP stand much of a chance to, well, stand on its own feet.
Under the circumstances, the Congress could be its only friend. However, after a series of betrayals by the NCP, Congress is more cautious with Pawar. Perhaps Pawar knows the Congress’s need for an alliance with his party is greater. But if he continues to ride two horses pulling in opposite directions, a calamitous fall is unavoidable. Though, Sharad Pawar has ruled out the possibility of joining National Democratic Alliance many times since 2014 but he is evidently getting close to Modi. Earlier Pawar said his party would prefer to sit in the opposition with Congress than join NDA. It’s said in political circles that Pawar can’t live without power. His entire career spanning 50 years in politics is testimony to this fact. He has switched sides, made friends with enemies, compromised with opponents, all in his zeal to stay in power at any cost. He entered the Maharashtra Assembly in 1967 at a young age of 27. He slowly rose up the ranks in Maharashtra politics and the state Congress. He became the youngest chief minister of Maharashtra by toppling the Vasantdada Patil-led Congress government in 1978. He led a group of 40 MLAs to split from the parent party and formed the government with Janata Party’s support. In 1980, after Indira Gandhi swept the Lok Sabha polls, Pawar’s state government was dismissed. In the Maharashtra elections in 1980, his party lost.
Again in 1985, Pawar’s party the Indian National Congress (Socialist) won only 54 seats and he became the Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra. With the split and the decline of the Janata Party nationally, Pawar soon realised that he can’t get back to power in Maharashtra on his own. Pawar merged his party back into the Congress in 1986. The Shiv Sena was spreading its wings in Maharashtra and Rajiv Gandhi needed a strong man to keep them in check. Lady luck smiled on Pawar again when Rajiv called the incumbent Maharashtra chief minister Shankarrao Chavan to join the Central cabinet, and Pawar again got a shot a chief ministership in 1988 (within two years of joining the Congress back).
After Rajiv Gandhi’s death in 1991, Pawar made a bid to become the prime minister but as he writes in his book, Sonia Gandhi didn’t want somebody with an independent mind to be prime minister. Instead, PV Narasimha Rao was chosen for the top job. Pawar, though unhappy, took up the defence portfolio and swallowed his pride again for the sake of power. In 1993 the Congress sent him back to Maharashtra as chief minister. In the 1995 state elections, the Congress lost sizably to the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. After the 1995 loss and with no prospects in the state for Pawar for the next five years, he shifted again to Central politics and won his Lok Sabha seat from Baramati in 1996. He unsuccessfully made a bid to be the Congress president in 1996 but lost to Sitaram Kesri.
In snap polls in 1999, Pawar opposed Sonia being chosen as the Congress prime ministerial candidate owing to the latter’s foreign origin. Essentially, Pawar saw that his dream to become the prime minister would be permanently punctured if Sonia was projected as the leader of the Congress. The foreign origin issue was just an excuse. He, along with PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar, were suspended from the party and they formed the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in May 1999. It is very difficult to predict about Sharad Pawar. Let’s see this time what shocker he gives to his party workers and people of Maharashtra.
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