With Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav playing truant with the Congress and amidst speculation over the emergence of a Third Front, all eyes are on Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and his Nationalist Congress Party.
Will the NCP ditch the Congress to align with Yadav and other non-Congress players? And, what role will the Maratha strongman, known for his negotiation skills and cordial relations with political leaders across parties, play in such a scenario?
NCP, for one, is refusing to get drawn into any such controversy at the moment. “This is all speculation. I don’t think there is doubt in any one’s mind [ours or the Congress] that we are part of the UPA government, and will continue as an ally,” said Pawar’s daughter and NCP MP Supriya Sule. She refused to comment on the Third Front saying there is little point in commenting on the “future” and reacting to “gossip”.
Sources in the party say that until the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Pawar will not gamble away his future by aligning with the Third Front. “Sharad Pawar is a mature and shrewd politician and is going to wait and watch. We are in power in Maharashtra and there is no reason to destabilise the government now. But, post-elections, depending on our performance and the overall scenario, the NCP could align with a non-Congress Third Front government if Pawar gets a big role,” said a senior NCP leader on condition of anonymity.
If a Third Front emerges, Pawar is one of the very few politicians capable of bringing together disparate regional party chiefs to cobble up such a Front.
But, political observers also point out that a lot depends on how things pan out in the coming eight to nine months in the run-up to the polls. “Pawar has maintained that in the pecking order of regional parties, the NCP with its nine MPs doesn’t rank very high. But, he will keep one foot in the Congress and another in any other non-BJP alternative,” said B Venkatesh Kumar, political analyst.