New Delhi: Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar said his offer of outside support to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form government in Maharashtra in 2014 was his party’s “calculated political move” to distance the BJP and the Shiv Sena, though it did not work.
In the final part of the three-part interview with Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, executive editor of party mouthpiece Saamana, Pawar said he had no intention of forming a government with the BJP after the 2019 state elections, contrary to the BJP’s claims.
Pawar added that he had also very clearly conveyed this directly to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The final part of the three-part interview was published Monday.
The NCP president also addressed concerns about the stability of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra. He said that while everything was well within the NCP-Shiv Sena-Congress coalition, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray needs to have more dialogue with his allies.
“Right from the outset, I did not want Shiv Sena to ally with the BJP. When it seemed that the Shiv Sena was going to join the BJP, I made a statement saying we are willing to give outside support to the BJP to form government. The intention was to distance Shiv Sena from the BJP, but this did not happen,” Pawar said.
“The government in Delhi was in their (BJP’s) hands and the state that is the CM was also with them….The BJP cannot tolerate that the Shiv Sena or any other party has the right to work for their own parties too, and we knew that the BJP will end up cheating everyone else tomorrow,” Pawar said.
The NCP was seen getting closer to the BJP as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the months leading up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and even after the results.
This was especially evident when Modi visited Baramati, Pawar’s home turf, in 2015, and shared the stage with the latter, praising him for his repository of experience. In Maharashtra as well, NCP leaders were seen allying with the ruling BJP on certain policies and decisions right after the 2014 state election.
Inside the legislature, too, Congress leaders often raised questions about whether the NCP was covertly working with the BJP on certain issues.
In March 2015, the NCP had joined hands with the BJP to oust Congress’ Shivajirao Deshmukh as the legislative council chairman by supporting a no-confidence motion against him.
After losing power after the 2019 state polls, former BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had said the BJP and the NCP were in talks in 2017 as well as in 2019 to form government together.
Criticising Fadnavis, Pawar told Raut, “People got to know him (Fadnavis) only after he became CM. Before that he was simply known as an aware opposition MLA. But I never knew that he had any right to take a decision for the entire state or the country.”
Speaking on the political drama that transpired after the 2019 elections, in which the BJP emerged as the single-largest party with 105 seats, Pawar said some BJP leaders approached him and other NCP leaders to keep the Shiv Sena out of power.
“It is not true that there were no talks. They approached us not once, not twice, but three times. And in this whole thing, they expected that because I was on good terms with the PM, he should get involved in this and I should also oblige. This message was conveyed to me,” he said.
However, Pawar dismissed Fadnavis’s claims of him being on board about forming a BJP-NCP government and backing out only at the eleventh hour, calling the accusation “incorrect”.
“Just so that the country’s PM should not get any wrong message about me or my party, I personally went to Parliament, met him in his chamber and told him that we will not join hands with you. If possible, we will form a government with the Shiv Sena or sit in the Opposition, but we will not ally with you,” the NCP chief said.
Interestingly, Raut did not question Pawar about the midnight drama in November last year when the BJP formed government with a supposed breakaway faction of the NCP with Fadnavis as the CM and Ajit Pawar, Sharad Pawar’s nephew, as the deputy CM. NCP chief too did not bring it up while discussing the events following the 2019 state polls.
Though Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar had taken oath, all NCP legislators soon deserted the arrangement, and the CM and the deputy CM resigned within three days, shortly before the floor test.
The NCP and the Congress eventually formed the Maha Vikas Aghadi government with the Shiv Sena with Uddhav Thackeray taking oath as chief minister.
‘Need more dialogue within Aghadi government’
While Pawar in the first part of the three-part interview to Saamana had insisted that there is no dearth of coordination between the three parties running the MVA government, in the final part, he conceded that there needs to be more dialogue.
Pawar said Thackeray runs the government like he runs the Shiv Sena, with a top-down hierarchy in decision-making.
“One thing is right that Uddhav Thackeray’s style of functioning is very different from all of us. His style of functioning is Shiv Sena’s style of functioning. There is a directive and once the directive comes there is no discussion,” Pawar said.
“In Congress and NCP, we respect our seniors but we don’t necessarily only get a directive from them and if there is an alternate opinion, we do discuss it. But in the Shiv Sena, once the leadership takes a stance it is followed,” he noted, adding that he did not have any complaints about it.
The NCP chief, however, was quick to add that this will not cause any problems in the MVA government’s functioning, as this is a three-party government and not a government of one single person.
He reiterated that this government will complete its five-year term and no ‘Operation Lotus’ can destabilise it. Pawar also said there will be alliances in the future as well, if all goes well.
However, with several Congress leaders having expressed dissatisfaction at not getting their due within the government, Pawar said, “If two parties have some opinions, it is important to pay heed to them, and so we keep insisting that there should be a dialogue. There will be no such discussion (by Congress leaders) if this dialogue is there,” Pawar said.
“We don’t see any problem in Thackeray’s style of functioning, but there is no dialogue,” Pawar reiterated.