Sharad Pawar’s like a cat with nine lives
Nevertheless, he has got back everything he had before he decided to go for broke in trying for the Prime Minister’s job. And the Congress, in view of the Raj Thackeray factor, in all probability will still tie up with the NCP for the Assembly elections, reports Sujata Anandan.delhi Updated: May 27, 2009 01:04 IST
At the start of this year’s Lok Sabha election, former Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, in a private chat, had expressed the fear that Sharad Pawar would bring the Congress tally down by hook or by crook. “He wants the Congress to get at least one seat less than the NCP,” Deshmukh told me and seemed quite convinced that the NCP would do its worst because they had their eye on the Assembly elections this September. “They can then demand more seats from us on their Lok Sabha showing, saying they are the bigger party despite contesting less seats.”
But as the election results have shown, nothing that the NCP did to bring the Congress down worked. On the contrary, the party has been routed in its own bastion of Western Maharashtra and I wonder if Pawar will ever learn — in 1995, he tried similar tactics by defeating official Congress candidates but the 45 rebels this threw up in the Assembly did not want him for Chief Minister under any circumstances and chose to support the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance instead.
This time Pawar targeted the two men who could pose a threat to his own party getting to the office of the Chief Minister in October this year — Deshmukh, the former Chief Minister and Ashok Chavan, the incumbent. The Jan Surajya Party, which is part of the Maharashtra government, was encouraged to put up candidates in both Latur and Nanded, the home turfs of the two Congress leaders. Minister for Home Jayant Patil was accused of working against the Congress’ Sangli candidate, Pratik Patil, essentially to torpedo the Chief Ministerial dreams of a third Congress leader: Patangrao Kadam, whose son Vishwajit had applied for a ticket from the same constituency. But all three Congress candidates posted resounding victories, and not a little for the efforts of the three Congress leaders, past, present and possibly future CMs. In fact, Vishwajit Kadam told me, “I may have been denied the ticket but I worked hard for Pratik’s victory because if he had lost, we would have lost the entire region to Sharad Pawar.”
But Western Maharashtra has now posted only three victories for the NCP — Surpiya Sule from Pawar’s home turf of Baramati, Pawar from Madha and Udayan Raje Bhosale from Satara, who is a direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and credits the victory essentially to that lineage. As the results rolled in, I realised that Deshmukh had been spot on when he told me that the NCP wins essentially because of the towering personalities of its leaders (like Praful Patel in Bhandara or Chhagan Bhujbal’s nephew, Sameer, in Nashik) but Congress candidates win more because of their party network and the efforts of grassroots workers. For example, Manikrao Gavit had no strongman on his side but won from Nandurbar despite the fact that the NCP left no stone unturned to defeat him — they had supported the brother of one of their own ministers against Gavit but even this did not work.
Had it not been for Raj Thackeray playing spoiler to the Shiv Sena in the Bombay-Thane region, the NCP would not have got the respectable figure of even eight and remained confined to just half a dozen seats — just what it had in 1999 when it first split the Congress and went to polls on its own.
So whither Sharad Pawar? I am not sure if Pawar will not repeat this game of “defeat and rule” (to be defeated himself again and again) but I must take my hats off to the sheer chutzpah he displays. Closer home his attitude is described colloquially as neeche gire toh bhi taang upar (he fell but still had his legs up). For, now he claims that though he won only eight seats and the Congress 17, the NCP polled only 45,000 votes less than the Congress. Look at the sheer confidence in believing in the stupidity of Congressmen — that it will not occur to any of them that the final vote count also depends on the percentage of voting in each constituency!
Nevertheless, he has got back everything he had before he decided to go for broke in trying for the Prime Minister’s job. And the Congress, in view of the Raj Thackeray factor, in all probability will still tie up with the NCP for the Assembly elections. Like I have said many times before, never write off the Maratha warlord — for Sharad Pawar is the epitome of the cat with nine lives. He always lands on his feet!