Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar says eight sitting Shiv Sena MPs had approached him for joining the NCP. In an interview to HT, the Maratha strongman gives a clean chit to former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, whose name figured in the Adarsh housing scam, and rubbished Narendra Modi's claims of development in Gujarat. Excerpts:
Uddhav Thackeray has said he will not allow NCP to join NDA at any cost. Your take...
Have we approached the NDA (BJP-led National Democratic Alliance)? I have always believed in cordial relationship with political parties and their leaders. But (BJP leader) Gopinath Munde and (Shiv Sena leader) Uddhav Thackeray have always believed in personal hatred.
In 1999 (when NCP was formed after parting ways with the Congress), Congress and NCP fought the assembly elections independently. We won 65 seats and it was possible for us to join hands with Shiv Sena to form the government. (But) We chose to go with secular forces… Uddhav is too immature to understand this.
What do you think about Shiv Sena after the death of its founder, Bal Thackeray?
Bal Thackeray formed the organisation with a lot of hard work and pain. There was faith, respect and loyalty for him among party workers. Today's leadership does not have that energy... this has led to unrest and discontent among the party workers.
Is that the reason behind sitting MPs shifting loyalties?
Eight sitting (Shiv Sena) MPs met me on three occasions in past three years with the proposal of joining NCP. Bhavana Gavali (Yavatmal-Washim), Shivajirao Adhalrao Patil (Shirur), Pratap Jadhav (Buldhana) and Subhash Wankhede (Hingoli) were in the group.
Their condition was to field them from the respective constituencies. It was not possible for us as we had commitments to our leaders. All of them were disillusioned. When Balasaheb was alive, all of them were loyal to him.
You had mentioned earlier that Raj's leadership is more appealing than Uddhav's…
Yes. The young cadre of Shiv Sena is shifting towards Raj (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray). No political party would dare to underestimate MNS.
If BJP emerges as the single-largest party that can form the government, Modi may get the credit for the achievement...
But Modi has no acceptability. I have reservations about his decision making capacities and style. Tell me a minister's name in the Gujarat government to be reckoned after Narendra Modi. Not a single name comes to our mind and that is because of the manipulative leadership qualities.
I do not want to say he believes in dictatorship, but (senior BJP leader and former PM Atal BIhari) Vajpayee was a more liberal and dignified leader. In politics, acceptability plays very important role. On one hand, acceptability among the coalition partners is required for smooth functioning of the government. On the other hand, acceptability among the people is needed to run the country.
Modi has criticised the Maharashtra government for farmers' suicides. Don't you think it is the failure of your government?
(BJP's PM nominee Narendra) Modi has been lying. Unlike Gujarat, suicides in Maharashtra and Karnataka are registered. When my department obtains figures of farmers' suicides in various states, the Gujarat government informs us that there are no suicides.
The Centre has no option but to believe the state government. There are instructions to the machinery against registering cases of suicides of farmers. Forget about suicides, Modi has been misleading the country about the so-called growth story of Gujarat... the growth rate has declined ever since Modi has taken over.
It had been 16.29% during 1981-85 and 16.73% during 90-94 when the governments were led by the Congress. The rate has only declined during BJP regime... in Modi's term from 2005-11, the growth rate had been 9.35%. These are figures are released by the Reserve Bank of India.
What will be the scenario at the Centre after the Lok Sabha elections?
I think though BJP is likely to be the single largest party, they will be short by 50 to 100 seats of majority. Regional and smaller parties will play major role in forming the government. The smaller parties led by Mamata Banerjee, J Jayalalithaa will play major role...but I don't think they will go with communal forces.
Would you facilitate mediation if the situation demands?
Our agenda will be a stable government in the larger national interest. We will work in that direction.
You have claimed that the Vajpayee government was better than the two terms of UPA...
Vajpayee was a stalwart in every sense. His decisions were acceptable among all partners in his coalition government. His personality helped the country achieve greater heights.
You have also said Vajpayee's government was better than that of Manmohan Singh...
There is no doubt. Vajpayee ruled the coalition government more skilfully. But at the same time, I am of the opinion that Manmohan Singh's government has equally fared well. I have worked with him for last ten years as a cabinet colleague and I think he has been always firm on his decisions and stands.
But don't you think there was a parallel decision-making authority in Rahul Gandhi?
If you are referring to the ordinance issue, it was the internal matter of the Congress party. The government was headed by the Congress and there should have been adequate deliberation within the party before taking any decision. Had the issue been debated within the party well before the proposal was moved, the situation could have been avoided.
Even the Adarsh commission report was partially accepted after intervention by Rahul Gandhi…
I think the entire Adarsh issue was a mountain created out of a molehill. What was Ashok Chavan's role in the scam? How can Chavan be held guilty? It's the duty of the government to facilitate any housing society in the interest of the residents of the state. The government policy allows people to form cooperative housing societies and seek land for the construction of the building. Most of the societies in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur have been constructed as per the policy, and the same is the case with Adarsh. Where does the question of illegality arise?
Does this mean he should not have been removed from the post of chief minister?
It's an internal issue of the Congress party. It was up to them to decide. How can I say anything now?
You have said that Modi failed to take the responsibility of the post-Godhra riots. What responsibility did you expect?
I did not say he should have resigned. But he should at least have visited the households that had lost members. There was a Congress MP killed in the massacre... why did Modi choose to be a mute spectator? As a chief minister, it was his responsibility to stand firm by the minority.
You had expressed your displeasure over the style of functioning of chief minister Prithviraj Chavan a few months ago. You still stand by your opinion?
No. We do not have any complaints against him now. He took corrective measures after criticism.
Ajit Pawar said last week that there is huge difference between him and his uncle. What dissimilarity do you see?
He is straightforward and outspoken and does not waste time in things that are meaningless. I avoid expressing myself directly in case of a disagreement. People may find Ajit Pawar (deputy CM of Maharashtra and Sharad Pawar's nephew) offensive at first instance, but later they start loving him. His accessibility, hard work and style of functioning have helped NCP a lot.
But his style of functioning has invited controversies on many occasions.
Who knows controversies better than me? The controversies always chase people who are active and decision makers.