Sharad Pawar is no Bal Thackeray and, yet, these days he seems to be behaving increasingly like one – a bully, I mean.
Of late, the Union minister for agriculture has been shouting down the Congress a lot, even talking down chief minister Prithviraj Chavan for not knowing his, well, onions. When the CM made a sincere effort to learn what those onions were all about -- by eating out in the open with farmers earlier this month -- Pawar seemed not to like the fact that Chavan was taking a leaf out of his own book and cosying up to the kisans, making himself at home in their milieu.
``One lunch under a tree with thecha (a green-chilly-garlic chutney) is going to teach him nothing about what needs to be done for drought relief,’’ Pawar later comment, in quite insulting fashion.
The same day Thackeray’s newspaper, Saamna, had taken a similar dig at Chavan: the CM’s lunch with farmers was a poor imitation of Rahul Gandhi’s meals with Dalits and a mere farce, it said with similar contempt.
Pawar’s dig came in the background of Chavan’s complaint to his party president Sonia Gandhi about how the NCP had been betraying its ally in a series of power moves at zilla parishad and other local self-government bodies. While they allied with the Congress during polls to keep the secular vote together, they were not beyond tying up with the Shiv Sena, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena or even the BJP to seize control of these bodies to deny the Congress any foothold.
The latter was left wringing its hands and I wondered if Chavan’s appeal to Gandhi would have the desired effect. For, most Congressmen in Maharashtra complain about how Pawar’s word counts for more in New Delhi and how, despite their warnings to party leaders about his devious designs, Pawar wins them over each and every time.
Even if Congress leaders in Delhi do not know it, it is clear to those in the state that Pawar has decided to decimate the Congress. The NCP had done its best to destroy the Shiv Sena at the civic polls and Pawar had been certain that his next battle would be with the Congress. However, a strong party cadre helped the Sena sail through the civic polls in some major municipal corporations in the state, though the Congress and the NCP did better in the rural bodies.
Having failed to eliminate the competition from a regional party (and the NCP is little more than that in many ways), Pawar seems to have decided that he must now go whole hog for the Congress vote bank, which has reached saturation point so far as the NCP is concerned. The only way he can do this is by fooling the Congress into giving itself away but, even though the party might have been conned into tie-ups at local elections, it now seems to be fighting back.
Paying the NCP back in its own coin, it recently manipulated the Shiv Sena into supporting its own candidate for opposition leader in the Thane Municipal Corporation – a body where the NCP had more seats and which is a region where the battle for supremacy is essentially between the NCP and the Sena. Perhaps the fact that Pawar had highly embarrassed the Sena just days before the polls by poaching their lone MP in the Bombay-Thane region, Anand Paranjpe, a move that the Sena is still smarting at, helped: both the Congress and the Sena had the common cause of extracting some sweet revenge.
So I found it rich that the NCP’s Maharashtra president, Madhukarrao Pichad, should warn the Congress against such trickery and betrayal. Sauce for the goose is clearly not sauce for the gander. But it was soon obvious to Pawar that the Congress has finally lost its patience and might soon try to go it alone. That, then, could spell death for the NCP.
So now he plays down the incident and describes the contretemps as just some hot air which will dissipate as soon as the `magnet’ of the next elections brings them together again. That might well be true. But, meanwhile, the Congress has finally shown some spunk – and spine – in standing up to the NCP.
They should call Pawar’s bluff more often.