Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, 73, is winding up his campaign for the 2014 general election in Maharashtra. Despite the anti-incumbency that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is facing and the Modi wave threatening it to swamp it out, Pawar believes that there could be a UPA 3 government or UPA-supported non-BJP government.
He also believes that the Congress-NCP alliance will increase its tally of seats over the 2009 election but showed some diffidence about Rahul Gandhi's leadership.
He spoke to HT, in a free-wheeling interview, just before he addressed the last rally in suburban Mumbai for a Congress candidate.
Q. What kind of a political formation or government do you see after May 16, 2014?
One thing I am sure about, now more than ever, is that it will not be (Narendra) Modi's government. If you do the calculations, you see that Modi cannot reach the number at which he can be the prime minister. Let's hypothetically divide the country into three regions: the south is largely non-BJP, the northeast and Bengal don't have the BJP except in Assam, in the central and northern regions the party doesn't have a complete sway because there are people like Mulayam Singh and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. Where is he then getting the number required?
So, do you think it will be a BJP-led government with someone else as prime minister?
The BJP is likely to emerge as the single largest party and may have more number of MPs than the Congress. But the BJP is now Modi. So, for it to form a government, he will need the support of people like Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and others who are not likely to extend support. So, it could be someone like Rajnath Singh as the prime minister.
Q: Then the Congress and allies like yourself are looking at sitting in the opposition?
A: No, not at all. It's foolish to go only by the opinion polls and media surveys. We all know what happened in 2004 and again in 2009. The Congress will be one of the two major parties with numbers, so it could still be a UPA 3 government. Or failing that, it could be a UPA-supported government in which I am 100% certain that the Left would also be a constituent, whether they like it or not.
The experience is that such governments do not last their term nor are they able to take major policy decisions.
Yes, there can be a question of stability but let's see.
What role do you see for yourself in such a formation?
I am one of the persons who can talk to everyone in the political spectrum. I can dialogue with secular forces to see how we can form or support a government.
What about your cherished prime ministerial ambition?
I am a realist. I know I'm going to Delhi with only so many seats. A consensus prime minister should have the backing and respect that numbers bring. I have seen IK Gujral and Devegowda - they couldn't have an impact, they couldn't take any decisions, they weren't able to perform. I don't want such a situation. Even if anyone suggests my name, I will not accept it.
The UPA government is seen as having some achievements to its credit, particularly the entitlement legislation, but there has been a failure to communicate these. Didn't senior cabinet ministers, leaders or allies realise the lag in communication with the public?
There have been many achievements. I can tell you from my own agriculture ministry. From importing wheat in 2006, we are now the world's second-largest exporters, India is the largest exporter of rice, the ministry earned Rs. 2.32 lakh crore in foreign exchange. This is after feeding our own people. So, it's a big achievement but we failed to project our achievements properly.
That's not my question: didn't anyone in the corridors of power realise that there was/is a communication gap?
(Smiles) There may be elements in our set-up who felt that the credit should go to someone else or something like that. And, there's some of that confusion. The UPA 2 was not a failure of governance, but a failure of communication.
You are hinting at what Sanjaya Baru has revealed in his book about the PM taking a back seat and allowing credit to go to the party.
I haven't read that book. From what I read in the media, I don't agree with him, but it's unfortunate that this type of a person is selected by the PMO.
Do you think the communication gap has something to do with the change of leadership in the Congress itself, from Sonia Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi?
How can I say anything about that?
Do you accept Rahul Gandhi's leadership? Your absence from the major Congress-NCP rally in Mumbai has set tongues wagging.
Rahul is or will be the leader of the Congress. What do I have to do with accepting a leader of another party? The Congress has every right to choose its leader. It's not essentially my lookout who heads the Congress.
As the Congress leader, he could be heading the UPA too.
If the Congress is the major party in the formation, its leader will be the leader of the UPA too. They have every right to choose. If we are working together, then we will have to accept the leader. How can I or my party oppose such leadership?
There's chatter that you have been talking to the BJP. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray also affirmed this.
Why would I? All my life I have opposed communal forces. Why would I talk to any of them now? I did not go to anyone or meet anyone about this. On the contrary, some BJP leaders who were cultivating that idea; they had sent a message to me about such a formation. In any case, I was confident that in Maharashtra the BJP would not be able to disassociate itself from the Shiv Sena.
But if the BJP had parted ways with the Sena, would we have seen a BJP-NCP-MNS alliance?
Where's the question of the BJP disassociating from the Sena? There were some people who were trying but it did not have the NCP support…(declines to name the BJP leaders).
You and chief minister Prithviraj Chavan appear to be working in close cooperation, which is a new development.
It's not only us but our entire party cadres, except in one or two places which we know, who are aggressively working for each other's candidates. One reason is that we both don't want Modi and his slogan of Congress-mukt Bharat has actually worked as a cementing factor here. Secondly, there's pressure from the minorities, Muslims and Christians, who want us to be together and work together.
How do you rate the MNS and Aam Aadmi Party factors in Maharashtra?
The MNS could occupy the Shiv Sena space because lot of Sena people have inclination towards Raj Thackeray. As for the AAP, let's talk after the election results are out; their candidates will lose the security deposits.
What would you mean by 'Shiv Sena space'?
The way the party is going, the way Uddhav is leading it, I see it finished in the next 10-15 years. Balasaheb built an organisation of commoners. The next generation is destroying it. His own brothers are against him, senior leaders like Manohar Joshi who built the party are alienated. Uddhav only listens to his wife and secretary. How can he run the party like this?
He has mounted a personal attack against you.
Forget about that. If he can treat his brothers and party leaders like this, how can I expect anything from him?
In your own party, the second-rung leadership is now quite clear with Ajit Pawar and Supriya Sule. What role would you be playing in the future? And, isn't Ajit's behaviour a cause for concern?
I would like to be in Rajya Sabha and build the party more. That's all. I want to again travel the state by road, meeting people along the way, not in choppers the way I do now. About Ajit, something he says is made into a major controversy by the media now and then. But we don't discuss all this in the family.
He and other NCP leaders have been accused of serious corruption charges and some have already been penalised.
The law will take its course.
As you step down as the country's agriculture minister, do the two lakh farmers' suicides weigh on your soul?
Even one suicide is cause for concern. I wouldn't want it but one section of opinion makers has blown this issue out of proportion. The National Crime Records Bureau figures show that barely 15% of all suicides are by farmers. Besides, we have improved productivity, better prices and higher production. So we have to see the entire picture.