NCP president Sharad Pawar’s paranoia of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s so-called weak leadership is neither new nor even an afterthought.
For all that saffron trolls refer to the Congress vice president as ‘Pappu’ — the inference is obvious — Pawar had told us nearly a decade ago that he saw "no spark" in the Gandhi scion.
But when the party won a fourth of the Lok Sabha seats from Uttar Pradesh in 2009 under Rahul’s stewardship, Pawar was startled and ceased to rubbish him.
However, much before Rahul’s debut into electoral politics nearly a decade ago, Pawar always stood in fear of having to ‘salaam’ a much younger and perhaps less able man than him. While he was still with the Congress in 1998 and Sonia Gandhi had just entered the electoral fray that year, Pawar had told me in an informal chat on the campaign trail that Congressmen were doomed always to bow to the dynasty.
"Pandit Nehru was ok. Indira Gandhi was all right too. But then we had to bow before Sanjay, then Rajiv Gandhi, now Sonia and perhaps later Rahul too. How can any self-respecting Congressman bear to do that to himself?"
It was not surprising then that a year later he split the Congress to become his own boss so that he could meet Sonia Gandhi on equal terms. It is Pawar’s eternal tragedy that the Nationalist Congress Party cannot win seats in Maharashtra, beyond his own sugar belt, without the Congress support.
Therefore, while he is on sufferance within the UPA, he bears up with the dynasty for his own survival — which is really what most Congressmen do as well.
Now, though he is lauding Mrs Indira Gandhi for her decisiveness and wishing the Congress had more like her, it is a historical fact that he could not bear to be subservient to her either and had first split the Congress in 1978 to head the Progressive Democratic Front government, which comprised the then Jan Sangh, the precursor to the BJP, in Maharashtra.
Fate and circumstances (he ran out of money in less than a decade) drove him back into the Congress’ arms again but having financially secured himself, he can now afford to be aloof from the Congress. However, it must kill him to acknowledge that, unlike other UPA allies, politically he still needs the dynastic party to post even a halfway decent result at both parliament and assembly elections.
But all said and done, Pawar is among the toughest leaders of our times, even if some of his actions have often seemed as autocratic as Mrs Indira Gandhi’s were.
And now he wants Sonia and Rahul to become autocratic in the interest of the Congress’ survival — and obviously that of his own party.
Far ahead of Narendra Modi, it was Pawar who was known as the crony capitalist and he has greatly disapproved of the UPA’s schemes in the interest of the common man, including the food security bill, even if he has had to eventually go along with it. And, of course, he is right when he says the Aam Aadmi Party should have been given a full mandate to rule New Delhi — for only then it will realise how difficult it is to bring down the cyclical rise in prices of onions and tomatoes and how impossible it is to lower electricity bills.
Pawar’s dilemma also is that while the AAP (which is now planning to contest all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat in 2014 and has identified Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa to first spread their wings outside of Delhi) won on an anti-graft plank, in Maharashtra the corruption tag, attaches more to the NCP than to the Congress.
The latter at least has one leader — chief minister Prithviraj Chavan — who is perceived as clean and completely incorruptible. Yet Chavan is no campaigner and the Congress has none better than Pawar to pull it off for them.
They are brothers at war with each other but still brothers in arms, like it or lump it.