Mumbai: Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar Thursday told party cadre to trust alliance partner Shiv Sena, fuelling growing perceptions that the two parties are drawing closer.
Speaking at the NCP’s 22nd Foundation Day, Pawar noted that the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) — the ruling coalition in Maharashtra comprising Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress — will contest the upcoming Lok Sabha and assembly elections together.
“Earlier, no one would have thought that the NCP can work with the Shiv Sena. But, we established a government with a different ideology and fortunately, people have accepted it … history shows that the Shiv Sena can be trusted,” said 80-year-old Pawar, at a small event in the party’s Mumbai headquarters.
He added: “This government will work for five years, and not just five years, but will work together in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections with more enthusiasm, unitedly representing the common man in the state and the country. I have no doubt about it.”
Known as the architect of the MVA, Pawar cobbled the alliance together with Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray, now Maharashtra chief minister, and Congress in 2019. This was after the state assembly elections threw a hung result and the Shiv Sena exited its pre-poll alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
In the 18 months of the MVA government, the NCP and the Shiv Sena have gotten considerably closer and the NCP chief is believed to be the primary hinge of this alliance, who has CM Thackeray’s ear.
The Shiv Sena has also often cozied up to Pawar, needling the Congress by making suggestions that the NCP leader should be in charge of an opposition alliance at the national level.
‘Balasaheb honoured his word to Indira Gandhi’
To drive home his point about trusting the Shiv Sena, Pawar cited history and talked about how Shiv Sena had extended support to Congress leader Indira Gandhi in the early 1980s by not fielding a single candidate for the assembly elections.
“A simple example is this: When the Janata Party government came to power in the country, and the Congress was defeated everywhere, in such a situation, one political party came forward to back the Congress and that party was Shiv Sena,” said Pawar.
He added, “Not just did the Shiv Sena come forward, but it also took a decision that it will not field a single candidate in the Vidhan Sabha election so as to help Indira Gandhi. Balasaheb Thackeray did not worry about not contesting the election. He had given his word to Indira Gandhi and he stuck to it. We cannot forget this history.”
The NCP president also dismissed CM Thackeray’s recent one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling it a routine event. A delegation of the MVA had met the PM Tuesday and Thackeray also had a solo meeting with Modi, which raised concerns about the stability of the alliance.
“They (Thackeray and Modi) may have met. But immediately a lot of people started raising doubts on the alliance in Maharashtra because of it. There is no reason for such doubt. There is Congress, NCP and now the Shiv Sena has joined us,” Pawar said.
He added that the NCP can count on the Shiv Sena to stick to its stand today, just like it did when Bal Thackeray honoured his word to Indira Gandhi.
A new rung of leadership
In his address, Pawar also also silenced critics of the NCP who had raised questions about the party’s ‘second-rung’ leadership. He noted that being part of the MVA has helped the NCP create a new leadership cadre.
“Being in power for several consecutive years and then out of power hasn’t affected the party too much. Yes, some people may have left, but new leadership within the party grew,” Pawar said.
In the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha and assembly polls, the BJP and Shiv Sena virtually left the NCP bereft of senior leadership after several key leaders left the party. These included Jaidutt Kshirsagar, Sachin Ahir, Bhaskar Jadhav, Dhananjay Mahadik, Udayanraje Bhosale, Ganesh Naik, Madhukar Pichad and many others.
“If you see today’s cabinet, a number of members are such that they are very successfully handling their responsibilities and before this, their leadership had not been visible in front of the public,” Pawar said, especially naming NCP ministers such as Rajesh Tope and Rajendra Shingne.