I am not a believer of opinion polls, particularly those which take place months and weeks before actual elections.
In my long career as a political journalist, I have noticed that electoral mood swings can happen days and even hours before the election.
Candidates who thought they had won the elections often lost miserably while so-called losers who gave up the fight midway through the poll process, I saw on more than one occasion, were woken up from slumber on counting day and asked to rush to the counting centre as they were about to be declared winners.
So I never took the poll, which said Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) would win not more than three or four Lok Sabha seats in 2014, too seriously.
But obviously Pawar was shaken by that poll and, the astute politician that he is, decided to do something about it.
And that’s where it began to become obvious that the NCP is really in deep, deep trouble with Pawar and his ambitions for himself and his GenNext itself at the root of it all.
Very few ministers of his party resigned when he asked them to do so. A few years ago, disobeying the Maratha strongman would have been impossible.
I am told that, like the Shiv Sena, the NCP too has no credible candidates for the Lok Sabha polls but some of the heavyweight ministers could have fit the bill.
But they have flatly refused to contest the parliamentary elections.
According to reliable sources, many have told Pawar that they would rather quit the party and pursue other interests if they are forced to contest the Lok Sabha elections.
This clearly indicates that even NCP stalwarts do not believe in their own party any longer and would rather draw out their time in government than take awager on their chances at the general elections in 2014.
For all that I have both admired and slammed Sharad Pawar over the years on various issues, I suddenly feel sorry for the NCP chief as he has no credible face, apart from himself, to lead the party in the next elections and that includes the polls to the assembly which are due in October 2014.
His nephew, Ajit Pawar, Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister, is highly discredited and cannot but be a contributory factor to the NCP’s poor showing as is obvious from several elections that the party has lost under his watch.
In the recently held by-elections in Pune, the NCP managed to secure just 9% of the vote share, coming in fourth behind the Congress, the Maharashtra Nanvnirman Sena and the BJP respectively. Nothing explains this except that the people found Ajit, who led that campaign, unacceptable.
Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule is yet raw and unhoned and indeed unacceptable to large sections of NCP leaders for that very reason.
There are, of course, some credible faces in the NCP but Pawar is not likely to hand over his party to fellow Marathas who might prove far more capable than his own nephew and daughter.
Like Bal Thackeray, Pawar too continues to remain his party’s best bet even if he, for now, vows that he will not contest another Lok Sabha elections. Pawar’s only hope is that a miracle might happen in May 2014.
Given the series of recent opinion polls that suggest that both the Congress and the BJP are far from victory, Pawar, I am told, believes that this will be his moment in history.
I know as a matter of fact that the Union Agriculture minister has been working towards that goal for a very long time – by simply resourcing a large number of third front leaders, including several chief ministers, and building bridges with them.
Obviously, he hopes that none of these so-called third front leaders would be acceptable to the Congress as potential prime minister.
However, the party might find him acceptable considering that he has been a loyal ally of the Congress and dutifully sticks to the party even when others have deserted what they consider a sinking ship.
Nearly 15 years after splitting the Congress in the hope that he would become the next prime minister of the country, Pawar clearly thinks he has arrived. But one wonders if he will be proved wrong once again.