I do not know whether to admire Sharad Pawar or pity the ageing warlord. The NCP is in danger of disintegrating and yet he continues to change colours faster than a chameleon in search of relevance even though he is being rendered into a cipher.
Pawar tried cosying up to Narendra Modi but it is obvious that the BJP does not need the NCP either in the state or the Centre no matter how troubled its relationship with the Shiv Sena is. Barely six months into losing power in the state, the NCP has lost a sugar co-operative factory election even though Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar staked his prestige for his candidates. But that’s not all. The newly-elected chairperson of the Maharashtra Legislative Council, Ram Raje Nimbalkar, who was installed in office after the NCP conspired with the BJP to oust the Congress incumbent, is now in a public battle with Udayanraje Bhosale, the 14th direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji, and the exchanges between the two royals (Nimbalkar is the maharaja of Phaltan) does neither of them nor the party any credit.
It is election season for the co-operative sector and while Bhosale owns no sugar factory, he has his own band of supporters who he wants to succeed. So as he fights for the release of more water from the Nira river to these factories, Nimbalkar who has his own sugar concerns recently made an unsavoury remark about Bhosale: “The only water he knows is that which comes in a bottle”.
No, that was no reference to Bisleri. Rather, Nimbalkar was mocking Bhosale’s habitual drinking but this royal of royals was not about to take it lying down. He was dead sober when he issued his threat to Nimbalkar: “Do not insult a Chhatrapati. Or I will pull out your tongue and cut it down with my sword.”
I do not know whether that was an empty threat because Bhosale is a throwback to medieval times — in 1999, he had dragged his uncle Abhaysinh Raje Bhosale’s campaign manager through the streets one night and cut him down publicly with his sword. None of the eyewitnesses dared to speak out against him in court either out of fear or loyalty and he is someone whose public tongue lashing even Sharad Pawar fears.
Yet Ajit made bold to warn both Nimbalkar and Bhosale not to wash dirty linen in public but who listens to him anymore? Not even the farmers in his own district who chose to vote against him for only the second time in recent history — the last time Ajit lost a co-operative election was in 1997 when the BJP was ruling both the state and the Centre. Clearly, while the Pawars are in power, farmers fear to cock a snook at Ajit, not knowing what he may do (like urinating in their fields), when the Pawars are out of power, they are quite willing to try out other options.
What then does Sharad Pawar do under the circumstances? I guess what he is best at — confusing the voters and muddying the turf so thoroughly that one is left scratching one’s head to make some sense of the situation.
That is exactly what seems to be happening now with Pawar addressing a rally for the Congress when he is no longer its ally. Narayan Rane is contesting a by-election from Kherwadi against the Shiv Sena. The BJP and the NCP have not fielded candidates but the last I had heard the NCP was offering support to the BJP.
What this does now is once again catapult Pawar firmly into the saddle as the most important player on the turf. It also shows that the Congress has no better leaders at this juncture and they may ignore Pawar at their own peril. If Rane wins these polls, Pawar will once again prove invincible. If he loses, well, then, not just Rane but Pawar too is headed for ignominy.