Sharad Pawar recently made a special effort to meet some senior editors and let them know that he thought a miracle would take place after the 2014 elections and someone they had not considered at all — apart from Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi — could end up becoming the prime minister.
A senior NCP leader now describes his party leader as the ubiquitous potato — it goes with everything, like aaloo gobi, aaloo poha, aaloo mutter, aaloo paratha, aaloo chicken, etc.
I was tickled pink by that allegory. I put two and two together and came up with four — as close as it can get to the horse’s mouth that Pawar is not ruling himself out of the prime ministerial race in 2014. But when I repeated the potato allegory to a friend of mine, he shot back, “What about aaloo-pyaaz?”
Few have forgotten that it was onions — or their rising prices — in 1998 that caused the BJP many a tear at a series of state elections in November that year. I reminded my friend that Pawar was not the Union agriculture minister then. “But he has always had connections to traders and he could bring down the prices now if he wanted to,” he said.
Clearly, Pawar has a lot of trust deficit to overcome although he has stated that the severe drought this summer was the main reason for the rising prices of onions this election season. But that drought was essentially due to the poor management of water resources by the Maharashtra government. The moment one acknowledges that, his nephew Ajit Pawar and the massive irrigation scam expose last year come to mind.
Pawar thus gets hemmed in from all sides though I am sure, being the shrewd calculator that he is, he would have done all his subtractions and additions to come up with his own arithmetic. While math was always my weakest subject at school, I know enough to understand that merely two to four seats, as most polls are predicting for the NCP, will not go very far in ensuring Pawar a winning equation.
But he has his own calculations. Pawar’s formidable networking skills are hidden from none and it is true that he is the single political leader today who is on good terms with all political parties — including the Shiv Sena, which will not find it difficult to support him on the same grounds they did Pratibha Patil for president: that he is Maharashtrian and the first one to get close to that high office.
The only fly in the ointment is the Congress — Pawar cannot hope to win more than a seat or two without the active support of the Congress and he is now counting on the fact that after the demise of Vilasrao Deshmukh, the party is left with no grassroots campaigner and may not be able to get the upper hand over the NCP.
He also hopes he will be the most acceptable person for the job to Sonia Gandhi. But, then, I have always wondered why she did not consider Pawar, then the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha with 40-odd seats from Maharashtra, in 1999 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government lost the vote of confidence in Parliament. The Congress could have cobbled together a government and put Pawar’s networking among the various parties to good use but didn’t.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh clearly considers Pawar his best minister but after a power point presentation by a Congressman to his high command in New Delhi — linking every statement of Pawar to the rising prices of food commodities — other top Congress leaders are beginning to have their own doubts and suspicions.
Pawar has been trying hard to take the Muslim vote from the Congress — note how he has been rooting for Ishrat Jahan more than any Congress leader — and he is also making a concerted effort to divide and break the Maratha vote from the Shiv Sena by holding the carrot of reservation before various groups.
But as a senior Congress leader recently told me, “It is just as well he has decided not to contest the Lok Sabha elections this year. Or else he would have lost. Look at how badly the NCP is doing on its own home turf — it has simply not been able to garner more than 10% of the votes at various elections.”
That then is clearly some food for thought, As a senior journalist tweeted: Pawar should beware he ultimately does not end up as a batata vada — with the same pau for accompaniment!