I do not know how to really put this but I will try. The most enduring thing about Sharad Pawar is his inability to engender trust in anyone — supporters, friends, peers — and yet many times he remains their best option.
Last week, a political analyst told me, "I really don’t know what Pawar saheb would have done had Narendra Modi not come to power. If LK Advani had a say in the BJP government, he would not have allowed Pawar within an inch of the PMO. Because Advani doesn’t trust him one bit. Modi is more innocent in that respect."
The discussion was on the Nationalist Congress Party being the BJP’s only non-ally that had failed to issue a statement on one year of the Modi government. All other parties not part of the NDA had been highly critical and this analyst believed Pawar had said nothing because he was probably working nineteen to the dozen to save his nephew Ajit Pawar’s skin for the latter’s alleged involvement in the Rs 70,000-crore irrigation scam.
Will Modi agree to bail him out? I asked the analyst. "Not without having something to show for it. There will be some give and take." Exactly what, I wondered.
Then two things happened early this week that helped to lift the cobwebs from my mind and everything fell into place. Senior NCP leader Govindrao Adik died and a charge sheet was filed against former public works department minister Chhagan Bhujbal for his alleged involvement in misappropriations in the building of a new Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi.
I remember the first time I had crossed paths with Adik. It was at the anointment of a new president of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress in 1996. He came decked up for the occasion. Senior Congress leaders had been brainstorming all night at Pawar’s official bungalow across Mantralaya and the consensus had evolved around Adik. It was a big achievement for an until then obscure leader whose only qualification then was his proximity to Pawar. But Pawar came on stage and announced the name of another supporter, Ranjit Deshmukh, instead — he had not even bothered to do Adik the courtesy of informing him that he had changed his mind in two hours. I will never forget the expression of utter betrayal and desolation on the faces of Adik and his family.
No wonder then that he did not go with the NCP when Pawar broke away from the Congress three years later. Adik, of course, became state Congress president under a regime devoid of Pawar but he was seen as too close to the Maratha warlord for the leadership to consider installing him as chief minister. Disappointed again, he was left with no choice but to hitch his wagon again to Pawar’s in 2009 but by then he was a fading star and could not really have got much out of Pawar.
The day after Adik’s death came reports of the Anti-Corruption Bureau filing a charge sheet against Bhujbal and I told myself — this was the deal. Modi had described the NCP as the Naturally Corrupt Party during his assembly poll campaign in Maharashtra and the BJP must not just distance itself from the NCP, which is more than willing to offer its support. There must also be a lamb to the slaughter — and a meaty one at that. Who better than Bhujbal in return for saving Ajit’s neck from the noose? And people won’t even notice that the bigger fish got away in the bargain.
Like Adik, Bhujbal too has no choice but to stick with Pawar. He too has burnt all his bridges (the Congress and Shiv Sena) behind him!