Barely a day after Narendra Modi won the Lok Sabha elections with a decisive mandate, National Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar told reporters that he was the ‘one and only’ UPA leader who had good connections with and access to the new Prime Minister.
That access clearly was through industrialist Gautam Adani. A week before his meeting with Modi, Pawar spent three days at Adani’s home in Mount Abu, driving up from Ahmedabad.
Pawar had ironed out the wrinkles for Adani’s power projects in Maharashtra when he was Union agriculture minister. One of the two Adani power plants in the state is in Gondia, the constituency of Pawar’s right-hand man Praful Patel.
Congressmen in Maharashtra and in New Delhi told HT on condition of anonymity that Pawar might want to put pressure on the Congress to concede more seats in the assembly elections or divorce the Congress and ally with the NDA.
But that’s not all. “These are part of his pressure tactics. There is something more sinister up his sleeve,” a top Congress leader said.
He added that Pawar is trying to take advantage of the disarray in the Congress camp and GenNext’s disenchantment with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. He is identifying, persuading or browbeating top Congress leaders who were union ministers in the UPA and AICC general secretaries to throw in their lot with him. He is also trying to rope in the Congress breakaways like Mamata Banerjee into the new equation.
But Pawar, with no role to play at the Centre, faces threat within his own party from nephew Ajit Pawar — Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister. The latter has told his uncle to stay out of Maharashtra and hand over the baton to the next generation.
The only way, political scientists say, Sharad Pawar can neutralise his nephew and take control is by grabbing the Congress leadership and merging the NCP with the parent party.
The Congress leadership is disturbed by these moves but has been unable to counter them so far. “We are not worried about the fallout of his meeting with Modi. That is only a side show of his game plan,” a senior leader said.
They are more concerned about the leaders Pawar senior has targeted; they were once loyal to him in the united Congress and could, out of loyalty, work as moles for him in the party.