For once Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray has got it absolutely right. When he lampooned Prime Minister Narendra Modi and NCP president Sharad Pawar after they made a cosy twosome over lunch at Pawar’s Baramati residence on February 14, he hit the nail bang on the head when he drew a cartoon with each asking the other, “Will you be my Valentine?’’
Come to think of it, both Pawar and Modi have much in common – both are crony capitalists, both cosy up to industrialists and count the leading entrepreneurs of the country among their best friends, neither believes in subsidies for the poor, both know the value of real estate and each one of them disposed of some prime government properties when they were chief ministers of their respective states. And, of course, both believe in empire building and both desperately wanted to be Prime Minister, only one succeeded in his first attempt, while the other failed over and over again.
But it is not just these commonalities that brought them together within months of Modi describing the NCP as the ‘Naturally Corrupt Party’ of the country. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has opened a series of investigations into corruption charges against NCP ministers in the previous government and seems rather intransigent on backing off. By softening up the CM’s boss with some home-made bhakri and thalipeeth, Pawar has bought some insurance against the possible conviction of his nephew Ajit Pawar in those cases, in the hope that the best route to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Moreover, Pawar has so many business irons in the fire that he needs to keep on the right side of any government at the Centre. In fact, Pawar has protected those interests in the past by his proximity to one or the other coalition partners in all non-Congress governments, including that of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. But there seemed to be no one he could approach in the first true-blue BJP government at the Centre, so he did the best thing he ever could – opened a line to Modi through the latter’s best friend Gautam Adani.
Soon after the Lok Sabha election, Pawar, who had described Modi in the context of his desperation to be Prime Minister, as “an over eager bridegroom desperate to consummate his marriage even before the wedding ceremony was over” had boasted that he was the only UPA leader who had good relations with Modi. Then we caught him secretly spending a night at Adani’s holiday home in Mount Abu and within days of that there were pictures of him meeting Modi in New Delhi.
In fact, Pawar had hoped for a Maharashtra-like result at the Centre, in which case he would have officially broken up with the Congress sooner than he did days before the Assembly elections in October. But then he got a dream result in Maharashtra and lost little time in offering support to the BJP. But with Fadnavis refusing to be obligated to the NCP….hmm!
Then, again, Pawar has ambitions to be BCCI chief again and with Amit Shah as the president of the Gujarat Cricket Association and the BJP controlling several more votes, it is obvious why Pawar needs to soften up Modi.
But why would Modi want Pawar to be his Valentine? Apart from common business friends, I suspect with the Modi magic wearing off and even Uddhav Thackeray picking up the courage to openly taunt a Prime Minister whose party runs a government in Maharashtra with Sena support — soon after the Delhi election results Uddhav had said a tsunami is bigger than a wave — Modi senses that he, too, must play the NCP against the Shiv Sena and stave off the steady wearing down of his charm and awe among the people by making more friends than he would have otherwise needed. That is why he compromised local BJP leaders and made tracks to Baramati.
How long this love affair lasts though is anybody’s guess. Modi is too much in love with himself to care about others for too long. And Pawar, best at running rings round others, including former PM Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi taking advantage of their essential decency and sense of honour, will not be able to supplicate before an ego-centric Modi for too long. We will just have to wait and see how the cookie finally crumbles.