Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, who in June advocated Mahagathbandhan and called all the opposition parties to come together before next year’s Lok Sabha polls to take on the incumbent BJP government, surprisingly soon shifted his stand calling ‘Mahagathbandhan not practical’ and very recently his clean chit to PM Modi on Rafale deal seems to be an unveiling of Pawar’s double game.
When asked about Congress allegations about the Rafale deal in an interview to a Marathi news channel, the NCP chief said, “People do not doubt Modi’s intentions. Doubts were raised over the manner in which information was presented.” Moreover, he opposed the opposition’s demand to make technical specifications and details of the controversial fighter jet deal public. However, he supported the demand of disclosing the price of the jet and the formation of a joint parliamentary committee to examine the issue.
Months before crucial general elections, such political swing of a seasoned political leader like Pawar, who offered to play the role of a unifier to unite the opposition before 2019 polls, has brought enough plights into NCP too. Tariq Anwar, a founder member and NCP Bihar MP, resigned from all party posts and the Parliament on Friday. Calling Pawar’s support to PM Modi on Rafale deal ‘unfortunate’, Anwar, considered a close aide of NCP supremo, expressed his disagreement with the party leadership and said, “I was hurt by Sharad Pawar’s comments.”
When Afternoon Voice spoke to Tariq Anwar, he expressed, “NCP is not in a mood to hurt BJP. Pawar can only justify the reason of supporting PM Modi on Rafale deal. His statements have spread a wrong message that NCP is going soft on BJP and I believe, he should not comment in such a way that can indirectly help to break the Opposition unity and ideology.”
In a political ambience when the entire anti-BJP opposition is geared up to take on the NDA government by any means, and debates around the Rafale deal playing its part to unite opposition strength, political analysts foresee that Pawar’s statement supporting PM Modi on the fighter jet deal will have an impact on the prospect talks to form Congress-NCP alliance and seat-sharing for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. As its consequence, the opposition unity and Congress’ efforts to gather support from other parties against the Modi-led BJP government’s alleged misgovernance and corruption, too, has to bear the brunt of the ruling party. BJP president Amit Shah acclaimed NCP chief and asked Congress president Rahul Gandhi to trust on his “own ally who has put national interests above party politics”.
Congress spokesperson Hemlata Patil said, “Sharad Pawar backing PM Modi on Rafale deal is unfortunately diplomatic with intent to not hurt any party. When the entire country and the Opposition parties are coming together to target the Modi government for Rafale deal, Sharad Pawar’s stand on the issue is really unfortunate and it gives a wrong message.”
She further added, “Whatever political ambition NCP has, even if it is to make Supriya Sule the Maharashtra CM, NCP will ultimately require Congress support.”
The Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal for 36 fighters from France’s Dassault Aviation has seen enough political bombard so far. Congress and other opposition parties have accused the NDA government of lack of transparency, corruption, and for endangering national security. The debate got its much-needed push last week when former French president Francois Hollande commented that ‘France was given no choice in the selection of industrialist Anil Ambani’s inexperienced Reliance Defence as offset partner for Rafale-maker Dassault’.
While the conflicts and compulsions among the regional opposition parties are discouraging the anti-BJP unity, the political analysts look at this whole episode as a strategic effort by the 77-year-old leader to mark his last shot to be in a significant political role both in Maharashtra and at Centre. They also look at his statements backing PM Modi as an attempt by NCP to keep all options open before the 2019 polls and make any available way smoother for her daughter Supriya Sule as the next Chief Minister of the state. However, what’s in the book of NCP’s poll master plan, time will only tell.
Shiv Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande exclaimed, “Sharad Pawar has always been a tricky politician. He speaks completely different from what he does. The relationship between NCP and BJP is always confusing to the common man. This is a strategy by NCP to pressurise Shiv Sena. NCP might aim to see Supriya Sule as the CM but in reality, she has not made an impression in the Maharashtra politics yet.”
Although NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik and MP Majeed Memon claimed that Pawar’s statements are being twisted for driving political interest; Pawar’s daughter and party MP Supriya Sule too expressed his disappointment over the questions (300 per cent price increase from Rs 526 crores to Rs 1,670 crores, government’s shyness to set up a JPC, and its hiding behind the artificial justification of secrecy of agreements regarding both commercial price and offset agreements) raised by the NCP chief about the Rafale deal being ignored.
NCP MP Vandana Chavan asserted, “Pawar’s statements are being twisted while he asked the BJP government to disclose complete information regarding the fighter jet deal. He also asked why the government is shying now when they demanded proper transparency on information during the Bofors scandal. NCP follows secular ideology and there’s no room to compromise with BJP.”