In recent years I have stopped marvelling about Sharad Pawar’s propensity to survive. But it is the Congress that I marvel about now — its generosity and equally extreme stupidity. And I wonder its leaders have no pride in themselves or in their party.
In October 2014, when minutes after the BJP broke its ties with the Shiv Sena and the NCP announced it was no longer an ally of the Congress, one former minister in the Maharashtra government told me, “We should never have allied with this party in the first place. If we had had the guts to sit in the opposition in 1999, the NCP would have been finished in two-three years and we would have had an absolute majority at the next election.’’
I believe that assessment is quite true because more than any other party in the country, the NCP needs the oxygen of power and its trappings to survive. Both the BJP and the Shiv Sena can spend decades in the opposition and still be able to keep their necks above water. So can the Congress despite its leadership issues and weak-kneed reactions to its opponents. The NCP, however, would be dead if Pawar did not keep holding out promises to his supporters that he would one day be Prime Minister — and now President, given that the PMO is now probably out of his reach forever.
So after offering suo moto support to the BJP for precisely that reason— somehow or the other, the NCP wished to exert control over the government — now it is eyeing the Congress again. Notwithstanding the party’s defeat in Assam, it seems to be on the path of revival at least in Maharashtra, leading all other parties in local self government elections. So the NCP with a mixture of bullying and cajoling tactics has forced the Congress into an alliance with it again.
With elections to the legislative council due next month, it is very obvious that the NCP has no friends at all at this point of time — neither the Shiv Sena nor th BJP is interested in propping up the party. That is not quite the case with the Congress who the Sena might be willing to support with second and third preference votes for its second candidate had the party decided to field one. So the best way out for the NCP was to exert extreme pressure on the Congress to cede the second seat to them on the promise they would return the favour at the next round of elections in 2018. Now even Pawar’s own supporters would not trust him so far — I have had his closest supporters tell me his promises hold good only so far as you do not exit his room and shut the door. After that you are quite on your own, so I wonder why the Congress leadership in New Delhi should believe in any of his assurances. But, strangely, despite the added fact of Ajit Pawar’s abuse of Congress leaders in the last couple of years and Pawar’s earlier critique of Sonia Gandhi for her foreign origins, the Congress leadership forgives him again and again and allies with the NCP despite the better counsel of its local leaders.
I recall, in 2009, as Pawar was pushing the Congress for a larger share of Lok Sabha seats, local Congress workers were leading delegations to their party president in desperate opposition. “Madam gives us a patient hearing,’’ one such leader told me. “But I do not know what magic Pawar works on her, he just has to drop in on her for five minutes and she throws all caution to the winds and does exactly as he asks her to.’’
What was galling to these leaders then, including former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, was that after such display of generosity, NCP leaders, including Pawar and Praful Patel, would go to town laughing about how they had tricked Sonia Gandhi into doing their bidding — of course none of these Congress leaders had the guts to inform her of this travesty and, I note, even today that is what the NCP banks upon.
So Maharashtra’s Congressmen may not have wanted accommodation with the NCP but no one has the courage to oppose Pawar or indeed their own party president. As one of them told me, “This is now written into our horoscope — Pawar hamein topi pehnate rahenge aur hum khushi khushi pehente rahenge.”
Hats — or should I say topis —off then to Sharad Pawar.