By Sushil Kutty
How should Sharad Pawar be addressed, what is his status in India’s political spectrum, is he still Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Chief and patriarch of the combined Opposition? The NCP founder has promised to restore the mangled NCP to its pre-split glory in three months flat. Isn’t that acknowledgement that the NCP split is full and final? Uncle Pawar and Nephew Pawar are cut from the same cloth and it is unlikely either of them will back off at the insistence of the other.
The elder Pawar is, however, in a position of weakness post-split. His statements betray him. For example, Sharad Pawar says the Congress should hold the LoP’s post because the Congress has the maximum number of MLAs in the MVA. Isn’t that the admission that Ajit Pawar’s NCP has more NCP MLAs than Sharad Pawar’s NCP?
Shouldn’t that automatically give party ‘symbol’ and party ‘flag’ to Ajit Pawar’s NCP? Sharad Pawar says “as per my information, Congress has the maximum number (MLAs) currently and if they ask for it (LoP post) then it’s a valid demand.” Does that not validate Ajit Pawar’s claim on the NCP?
Sharad Pawar now says many of the NCP MLAs who joined Ajit Pawar in the BJP camp have been calling him up and telling him they haven’t given up their ideology and that they would “declare their stand at the right time.” This is standard defence of the losing side in any dispute. The fact is Sharad Pawar minus power is as helpless and hopeless as Ajit Pawar without power.
The next question is, will Ajit Pawar and his eight cohorts be able to avoid disqualification under the anti-defection law? Sharad Pawar’s take on this is not to take a confrontational stance. He believes in the “misguided youth” principle and trusts his own experience of handling such predicaments. The octogenarian, with 50 years of political experience, says he doesn’t believe in a “show of strength” because strength has the habit of going up and going down.
And he has restored balance in his party many times before, too. In Sharad Pawar’s book, those who have left the NCP will lose in 2024, and there is no two ways about that. Sharad Pawar is speaking the language of most of the Opposition, it does not matter from which party, and which leader. Whether Nitish Kumar or Rahul Gandhi, the common refrain is to come 2024, “the people will vote to defeat Narendra Modi” – that the 2024 battle will be “people of India versus Narendra Modi”, it does not matter how many political parties are swatted and split.
Both vanquished supremo Sharad Pawar and the disqualified Congress MP Rahul Gandhi believe it will be a “people versus Narendra Modi” in the 2024 general elections. The defections of Ajit Pawar and his cohorts including Praful Patel and Chhagan Bhujbal does not count. Irrespective of engineered defections and manufactured splits, the groundswell of the anti-Narendra Modi sentiment, anti-BJP public mood will sweep everything out of the path.
So, Sharad Pawar has reverted to the old ways. He is meeting people face to face and when the supreme leader talks one-on-one with the grassroots, it is a different kind of equation. The chemistry is instant and the effect remains. “Around 80 per cent of the total people who came to meet me (on July 3) were youngsters. These youngsters will work for the secular ideology and strengthen Maharashtra with whatever it takes.”
There’s a feeling Ajit Pawar, Chhagan Bhujbal, Praful Patel, DilipPatil, Hasan Mushrif, Dhananjay Mundo, Dharmaraobaba Atram, Aditi Tatkare, Sanjay Bansode and Anil Patil will not have the courage to face NCP workers and livid Sharad Pawar supporters in the streets and in public meetings. It is a feeling similar to what happened after Eknath Shinde’s defection with the bulk of Shiv Sena MLAs. Chief Minister Eknath Shinde is now apprehensive and scared to hold the overdue Mumbai municipal elections.
On July 3, Sharad Pawar’s daughter and “NCP working president” Supriye Sule expelled Praful Patel, Sunil Tatkare and Ajit Pawar from the NCP for “anti-party activities.” With that, the battle for the party begins in earnest. At stake is the party symbol and the party flag, not to speak of the party name. And at stake also will be Sharad Pawar’s political status and acumen. Sharad Pawar is considered the grand old of Indian politics with even Prime Minister Narendra Modi accepting Sharad Pawar as his “political guru”. It is the same “chela/shishya”, the same Narendra Modi, who stabbed Sharad Pawar in the back and the aging Maharashtra strongman is in no mood to forget or forgive. (IPA Service)