In all the years that I have known and closely observed Sharad Pawar, I have realised that he is as good a barometer of the political weather as any you can find in the country.
So when it looked as though this election was rather one-sided and the UPA did not even stand a fighting chance, he was making some nuanced statements in favour of Narendra Modi. At least I saw those statements not as an attempt to desert the Congress (he cannot afford to do that as yet) but as hedging his bets in case the BJP did come to power at the Centre.
But since then the winds seem to have changed direction. I was startled at the aggression that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi showed a few days ago when he mocked the Gujarat development model calling it a "new heavier balloon" filled with "gas" that will also burst like the BJP's 'India Shining' campaign in 2004. Usually Congress leaders are not given to boasting during elections without basis for they know they will have to eat crow sooner rather than later. But when I dismissed Rahul's tall claims as immature posturing, I was forced into a rethink when Jairam Ramesh reiterated same sentiments in almost identical words. This was soon followed by Pawar's "Modi needs to be treated in mental hospital and we will ensure the treatment once the Lok Sabha elections are over" comment.
Pawar is not contesting a Lok Sabha seat this season but the amount of hard work he is putting into his campaign and the punishing schedule that he is keeping led me to believe that the UPA's game might not be as much of a lost cause as was being made out by most people. Elections in India are very hard to predict, never mind all those 'fixed' surveys. In my experience the losing side often senses the mood in general and this becomes apparent from the manner of its speech and expression during the campaign.
So while the BJP might dismiss Pawar's ranting as the mark of frustration, I would think otherwise. Pawar has gone wrong before in 2009 when he had not believed that the UPA could return with such a massive victory. But even so he had still taken care not to burn his bridges with the Congress leadership before the last vote was counted.
If he now really thinks nothing of insulting a man known to be utterly unforgiving of any of his challengers (including friends and mentors), it must surely mean that the election is no longer tilting just to one side as Modi supporters would have us believe. I can also sense that Modi's supporters are somewhat less vibrant these days and that Modi himself seems to have run out of issues and ideas (that is if he ever had them) except to pick on other people's ideas while continuing to blunder on history and geography every other day. He recently boosted the Congress-NCP campaign in Nagpur and Amravati by describing Rukmini as the princess of Arunachal Pradesh when, in fact, she was the princess of Kaundinyapur (today Kundapur is in Amravati district of Maharashtra) — a fact that Maharashtrians are immensely proud of and one which contributes to the robust Vithal-Rukmini tradition of the state.
Why I also suspect that Pawar could be sensing the changing direction of the wind is because of the recent admission by former BJP president Nitin Gadkari that his party "could have won 40-42" out of the 48 sets in Maharashtra had it not been for the manner in which the Shiv Sena reacted to his attempt to get Raj Thackeray of the MNS to refrain from contesting the polls.
Even Gadkari could not have been so naïve as to not realise the repercussions that the meeting would have on the saffron alliance and he has a self-professed friendship with the Pawars, doesn't he?
So why do I believe there has been some match fixing underfoot? The answer, I think, is blowing in the wind!