Nearly one year into the Modi sarkar and six months of the BJP-led government in Maharashtra, there seems to be a sudden dearth of leadership in India.
Maharashtra’s wannabe macho man, Raj Thackeray, is also quiet, thanks to the two crushing defeats in the parliamentary and Assembly polls.
I am tickled pink that the only two leaders — dismissed as weaklings this past year — showing some spark seem to be Rahul Gandhi and Uddhav Thackeray.
But the one I feel sorriest for today is Sharad Pawar. He seemed too clever by half when after the Lok Sabha elections, he cosied up to the BJP, making the Congress nervous. The NCP then, predictably, broke its alliance with the Congress days before the assembly elections.
Now, even though the Congress and the NCP were dealt a sound blow at the polls, Pawar got a dream result in the assembly elections — the BJP did not get a majority and he thought the party would be left with no option but to seek NCP’s support.
Of course, there would have been a quid pro quo – that the state government would go slow on the investigation of corruption charges against NCP ministers, including Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar. But while the BJP was willing to flirt for a while with the NCP, the baggage obviously was proving too heavy. The cases are, indeed, going forward and Pawar seems to have lost his clout in Maharashtra.
So Pawar is again softening towards the Congress: The NCP is tying up with the Congress in the Navi Mumbai civic body to make up its shortfall in numbers and he is no longer willing to dismiss Rahul Gandhi as a sparkless individual.
But if it is Pawar, you can be sure he will play the field, no matter what. However, this time he has no takers. Perhaps impressed by the unity of the socialist leaders of the Janata Parivar (wherein stalwarts like Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad tamely handed over the leadership to Mulayam Singh Yadav), Pawar is now calling for a similar unity among the Congress breakaways (the TMC and the Tamil Maanila Congress), hoping to lead that front against both the Congress and the BJP.
But why would the TMC chief join him? Unlike Pawar, who first split the Congress in 1978 and then sought a merger 10 years later to keep from sinking in the political quagmire he had stepped into, Banerjee has pulled off impressive victories against both the communists and the BJP.
But then, Pawar has a sense of betrayal not just by the Congress, but also by fate itself. Unlike Chandrababu Naidu or even Mayawati, Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh or Nitish Kumar, he has been unable to sweep Maharashtra all on his own at any given time in history — the only time he has done well is when he has been in charge of the state Congress.
But he always bore a grudge against the Congress for not giving him as much importance in the UPA as, say, Chandrababu Naidu was given by NDA 1, quite forgetting that Naidu always had at least 30-40 seats under his belt from Andhra Pradesh, while Pawar’s best showing, fighting alongside the Congress, has only been nine.
And leaders like Banerjee and Naidu do well because they always know which side they are on. They have never straddled two stools, only to fall in the middle — as Pawar now obviously has.