When Sharad Pawar speaks, people listen. So, when he spoke of an alliance between his Nationalist Congress Party, the Shiv Sena, and the Congress in Maharashtra, people listened. ‘Impossible’ is not a familiar word in the Pawar brand of politics. When he sets his mind to make something happen, it becomes a looming possibility — the case in point being the ongoing government formation exercise in Maharashtra.
For 76-year-old Sharad Pawar, the recently concluded assembly election in Maharashtra was a do-or-die situation because the NCP’s political survival was dependent on its performance. And so, when the opportunity came by to stitch together an alliance – however unlikely – Pawar did not waste much time and brought together a new political combine – the Mahashivagadi. This is why NCP chief Sharad Pawar is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
He single-handedly managed to bring the Congress and the Shiv Sena – parties with opposing ideologies – on the same table. Mentally prepared to sit in the opposition, the Congress was jolted out of its lethargy when a formula for power-sharing in Maharashtra was handed out to it.
“We (the Congress and NCP) contested the election together. Whatever the decision, we will have to take it together,” Pawar told reporters Monday ahead of the NCP’s core committee meeting.
Confidants, friends and foes compare Sharad Pawar’s political astuteness to the predatory skills of a jungle cat. Armed with 54 assembly seats, he set out to challenge the BJP that won 105 seats, yanking all hopes of power from under its feet. So deft have been Pawar’s moves that the BJP still hasn’t completely realised it may have to sit in the opposition benches now, despite emerging as the single-largest party.
But before he came out with his deft political moves, Pawar made it a point to sting with his words. “I did not know that (Devendra) Fadnavis knew astrology, which could have been the only reason why he said Pawar’s politics is finished in Maharashtra,” the NCP chief had said the day election results were announced, in an apparent dig at the former chief minister whose hopes of returning comfortably to power were dashed.
A day after, he was rubbing salt on the BJP’s wounds. “The election results are the beginning of a change in Maharashtra. (They) show that people do not like the arrogance of power. When you detach yourself from the ground realities, people do not welcome it. The BJP’s claims of crossing 220 seats have not been accepted by the people.”
Sharad Pawar is believed to be a political leader with the Midas touch, someone who can convert an also-ran into a winner – the Congress party, in this case. An internal survey done by the Congress in Maharashtra before the assembly election gave the party about 30-35 seats. No leader of stature campaigned for it. The two rallies addressed by its former president Rahul Gandhi seemed to be a listless effort. Everyone had given up, except Pawar.
Not someone to waste time on endless discussions, Pawar met Sonia Gandhi. Armed with statistics and reasons for a new alliance in Maharashtra, he convinced the Congress president that it would serve the interests of her party if they worked together with the Shiv Sena. The BJP, in its zeal to increase its flab, had poached NCP leaders who were close confidants of Pawar. If this had made him angry, then the poaching of members of his extended family, like Padmasinh Patil’s son Ranajagjitsinh Patil, made him see red.
A best-kept secret
Sharad Pawar isn’t a leader given to emotional extravagance. He kept his intentions to break the Shiv Sena away from the BJP a closely guarded secret. While deliberations were on with the Shiv Sena, Pawar never gave in to their deadline. Those close to him say Pawar cannot be pressured into doing something. So, while the Shiv Sena started hinting at support from the NCP and the Congress, the man who held the reins maintained a stoic silence.
Through his political manoeuvres, he ensured that the widening chasm between the Shiv Sena and the BJP became unbridgeable. The last nail in the alliance’s coffin was the resignation of Union Minister of Heavy Industries Arvind Sawant from the Narendra Modi cabinet. Neither the Shiv Sena nor the BJP was prepared to be played in such a manner by Pawar.
His enduring friendship with Shiv Sena founder late Bal Thackeray put him high on the trust graph of Uddhav Thackeray, the current Shiv Sena chief. Pawar is insistent that Uddhav takes up the chief minister’s post. To those in the know, this seems to be a move to ensure that the breach between the BJP and the Shiv Sena is permanent.
Staying in power in Maharashtra is important for Pawar as it will keep his nephew Ajit Pawar in check. Intensely ambitious, Ajit is the weakest link in the Pawar brand of politics. Though the NCP with 54 seats is just two short of the Shiv Sena tally, Pawar’s readiness to give the CM’s chair is seen as a ploy to tell the voters that he respects the mandate given to his party.
More than keeping the BJP away from power in Maharashtra, Pawar is trying to keep his aggressive and short-tempered nephew from straying in the direction of the saffron party. There is talk that the BJP could be planning to use the findings of the probe into the mega irrigation scam involving Ajit Pawar to keep the latter on tenterhooks.