A journey to nowhere
Pawar is making sure the old wounds are reopened and Modi does not get a foot in the door of the second largest state in India in terms of seats in Lok Sabha.columns Updated: May 22, 2013 13:39 IST
In a week when all political parties seem to be going into election mode, a friend with close connections with politicians of all hues tells me, "Two men are destined for disappointment in the 2014 polls. It is great fun to watch how they are jostling for their positions, though."
The two men he speaks of obviously are Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and I can see why he stated that with such certainty.
Pawar took a train ride to Mumbra, a far suburb in Thane, this weekend and Modi succeeded in placing his trusted aide and tainted minister Amit Shah in a key position for the 2014 campaign. The two events might seem unconnected but they are joined by a common thread - of ambition.
Shah has been put in charge of the BJP's campaign in Uttar Pradesh - without a substantial number of seats from India's largest state, not just Modi but even the BJP cannot hope to come within striking distance of seizing power in New Delhi. And without the minority vote, which traditionally rests with the Congress, Pawar knows he has no chance of overtaking his ally in terms of numbers in the Lok Sabha.
Why my friend laughed at their jostling for positions in this manner is because he felt that letting Shah loose in Uttar Pradesh would only consolidate the minorities' vote behind the Congress in that state where they are already deeply disappointed with the Samajwadi Party in its current avatar.
And Pawar's train ride to Mumbra had much to do with the fact of the NCP's complicity in various corrupt acts in the civic amenities in that area which recently led to a building collapse that took the lives of many innocents - and minorities can be particularly unforgiving about such harm to themselves.
But the fun quotient of the event was that knives were finally out in the open with Pawar choosing that occasion to press on a raw nerve so far as Modi is concerned. Shah is already battling cases regarding his alleged involvement in encounter killings in Gujarat and Pawar lost no time in bringing to mind Ishrat Jahan, a college student and a Mumbra resident, who was gunned down by cops in Gujarat along with her friends some years ago.
Gujarat's encounter cases are already falling apart, many cops are in prison over them and Shah might not get off too easily either. The Modi' magic does not work across the border from Gujarat even in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra.
So Pawar was making sure the old wounds are reopened and Modi does not get a foot in the door of the second largest state in India in terms of seats in the Lok Sabha. It goes to Pawar's credit that the last time Modi was in Maharashtra, Pawar made sure he was driven out forcefully - by his own party men and allies.
Modi's rhetoric was that he would turn Maharashtra into another Gujarat.
"We would rather have Gandhi's Gujarat. There is no room here for Modi's Gujarat," Pawar snapped back, a rhetoric picked up by all Congress leaders, too, which so frightened the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance that they forbade Modi from returning for the second phase of campaigning in the state.
BJP candidates who had good equations with their minority constituents wouldn't have him at their meetings; former Lok Sabha speaker Manohar Joshi even went on record to say he had lost the 2004 elections only because he had allowed Modi a free rein in his constituency which had a substantial number of Muslim voters.
However, as I see it, it is a level playing field for all parties so far. The Sena is once again in battle mode, taking on Modi for junking Hindutva for so-called pseudo-secularism; BJP leaders are still not seeing eye to eye with each other.
The NCP is racked with some very serious charges of corruption and the Congress, though headed by honest men (Manmohan Singh and Prithviraj Chavan) is a non-starter because these men are also rather bootless. The third front can at best be spoilers and voter apathy against all the parties is at its peak.
Only Sharad Pawar has all his flanks covered - he will ally dutifully with the Congress without whose support he cannot hope to win even half-a-dozen seats in the Lok Sabha and will jump ship only if the Congress fails to muster the numbers.
Between the two men, then, my money is on Sharad Pawar - ie, if at all.