Even as attempts are being made by the opposition to cobble a grand opposition alliance to take on the seemingly invincible BJP, Nationalist Congress Party chief and veteran politician Sharad Pawar Wednesday said he would not lead such an effort.
But Pawar said he would be happy if this effort met with success.
“The country needs an alternative,” Pawar said, speaking at ThePrint’s ‘Off The Cuff’ with Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta in Pune, the first in Maharashtra’s cultural capital.
However, despite throwing his weight behind such a coalition, Pawar remained critical of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and what he called was his lack of “consistency”. “Congress discusses only one name – Rahul. Can we create public confidence? Between (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and Rahul, it’s not difficult to choose,” he said. “Rahul wants to travel, I understand. But there has to be consistency. Two months he travels, then suddenly disappears,” he said.
Addressing a packed house, Pawar, who was recently conferred with the Padma Vibhushan award, was also critical of the BJP-led NDA government’s role in Kashmir as well as the PM’s attempt to polarise the Uttar Pradesh elections. He said the government has been unable to implement any commitment in Kashmir and that dialogue, not armed forces, are the solution there. But he also underlined the need to not demoralise the Army by punishing the forces for the controversial video in which a civilian is tied to the front of an army vehicle to counter stone-pelting. On PM Modi’s comments about graveyards and crematoriums during his UP campaign, Pawar said, “Kabristaan-shamshaan was a clear cut signal to divide society, especially if it comes from the highest position.”
The veteran politician was, however, not entirely critical of the NDA government and Modi. He said the government at the Centre was led by a person who is “effective, assertive in the party” and hence, there was stability. “Modi works very hard. Only problem is he has very strong views. It is not fair in politics,” he told Gupta. Pawar said he had sent the PM a detailed note on contentious issues like Kashmir and cow vigilante groups and would meet him next week to discuss them. Comparing Modi to his predecessor Manmohan Singh, Pawar said the latter was “also very hard working but very quiet”. “Unlike Modi, he couldn’t convince public he was effective.”
Pawar, who split from the Congress in 1999 to form his own party, said it was “difficult for the old Congress party to come together”, but “not impossible”.
With his deep-rooted interest in Indian cricket and having been chairman of BCCI and ICC, Pawar said there was a need for sports bodies to be independent. “I tried to get retired players like Sachin (Tendulkar) but they said it isn’t our job,” he added.
Speaking about fugitive liquor baron Vijay Mallya, Pawar advised him to come back to India and face Indian courts. He claimed banks said any concession to Mallya would be criticised “because of perception — his calendar, calendar girls.”