Is the NCP leader sensing national relevance again by throwing in his lot with the mahagathbandhan?
An image that endured during the recent United India rally of the Opposition magathbandhan was that of NCP chief Sharad Pawar as sheet anchor, with chief organiser and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee constantly relying on his good advice and all regional leaders paying him obeisance. Sure the Maratha strongman and quintessential politician of the old guard would command respect and deference. But looked at from the perspective of his latest statement that he might consider electoral politics again after 2014 on the insistence of his partymen, it seems that he is emerging more than just being a key player. This U-turn assumes significance considering he was adamant about not taking the plunge as late as November and December last year but has now chosen to revise his perspective within a few days of the grand Opposition show of strength. Surely he feels bolstered enough. Given his pan-India acceptability and recognition and the fact that there are suspicions and anxieties about the national leadership abilities of regional satraps, he could well emerge as the leader of a combined federal front, one who could be listened to. At least he hopes so. And after the NCP’s consensus with the Congress on sharing 40 seats in Maharashtra, the former Congressman is not being seen as a one-time rebel but a newly-returned ally for the grand old party. Besides, he has held important Central ministries all along.
Pawar himself made no attempt to hide the national implications when he said the NCP was currently focussing on the Lok Sabha polls and that the strategy for the Assembly elections would be made in due course. The reversal of his earlier stand comes after partymen requested him to contest from Madha, which he had won in 2009. And though he did not contest in 2014, that his writ runs large was evident from the victory of senior NCP leader Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, who beat the prevalent Modi wave and emerged victorious from the constituency. Even Congress circles are buzzing with talk that he may contest from Pune. And though NCP leader Praful Patel said he was confident Pawar would contest to enthuse his party workers across Maharashtra for a change of guard, the larger purpose was not lost on anybody. Particularly when he has been pitching himself as an interventionist with his “Save Constitution” call for some time and criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s last speech in Lok Sabha before the elections as one that lacked “decorum” and “cultured dialogue.” Clearly, Pawar has scented an opportunity to catapult himself back to relevance. The bigger question is can he shed the baggage of his flippant loyalties in the past? He first broke away from the Congress in 1978 when the Janata Party lured him with the offer of chief ministership in Maharashtra. He joined back in 1987 when Rajiv Gandhi was at the helm. Pawar not only became chief minister but steadily rose in the party. So much so that after Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, his name was mentioned as a prime ministerial probable. But Sonia Gandhi acted on advice that he could not be trusted and backed PV Narasimha Rao instead. That rankled so much that despite being the Defence Minister, before the 1999 general elections he joined issue about Sonia’s foreign origins disqualifying her from the country’s top job. He formed NCP but not content with his reduced status as a regional player, dropped his “foreign origin” stand and extended support to UPA. Post Modi and the Congress decimation, he swung to the BJP in Maharashtra and political observers say by staying out of the race in the Gujarat Assembly election, he had given the BJP an edge which helped it overtake the Congress by a slender margin. So though he seeks to build another narrative now by seizing the trade winds, he wouldn’t settle till he is the grandmaster of the grand alliance. Failing which he could just be a spoiler. And given his history of flip flops, he would need to convince others about his seriousness rather boldly.