In Baramati, there’s a modest museum. Like most things in this taluka town, it has links to Sharad Pawar. It has, besides numerous artefacts collected over five decades, his personal collection of pens. There are all varieties and brands here but Pawar is partial to branded and customised fountain pens. A rare black-and-gold Mont Blanc caught his attention that afternoon in April 2004 during the Lok Sabha election campaign in which opinion polls had all but put the NDA back in power.
“It could be a different result, you know,” he said, “I may just use this next month.” Pawar leaves things unsaid. It has less to do with his speaking style and more a way to leave options open. Was he dreaming, again, of becoming PM? Pawar smiled. For a second, his dream sparkled in his eyes. Later, he took oath and signed as a minister in Dr Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. There’s no way to tell if he used that Mont Blanc.
Now 74, Pawar is still jostling between political friends to explore the possibility of being the consensus candidate for the top job if the opportunity presents itself. Pawar denies this. The denial too is part of a piece, just as his blow-hot blow-cold reaction to BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
Mentored by the late YB Chavan, Pawar fought his first election to the Maharashtra assembly in 1967 and began representing Baramati in the Lok Sabha from 1984. The 2014 election is the first one that he is not contesting.
He has done it all: been CM in 1978, leader of the opposition in 1985, split from the Congress in the late 70s and returned to it in 1987, thrown his hat into the ring to be PM in 1991, parted again in May 1999.
Pawar’s friendships in the corporate sector are legendary. His critics are baffled by his otherwise progressive, liberal philosophy that has co-existed with his conservative pro-business economic ideology. The contradiction had never bothered him. Just as a spate of farmer suicides did not shake his confidence about the efficacy of Genetically Modified Bt cotton in these areas.
“As agriculture minister, he has turned India into a GM lab, presided over an agrarian crisis and food inflation,” says food policy analyst Devinder Sharma. Pawar is used to such criticism.
Pawar is clearly orchestrating things so that he can emerge as a king-maker, if not the king, in May.