Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused Sharad Pawar and his kin of "enslaving" people in his stronghold Baramati, the NCP chief today hit back at Modi, saying he was compromising the prestige of PM's post by lowering the standard of public debate with personal attacks. "Prime Ministership is an institution and maintaining its dignity and prestige is the duty of one and all. It is sad that prestige is not being maintained.
"The Prime Minister's position is being undermined and the standard of public debate has been lowered by those occupying it. Personal attacks are given priority in speeches," Pawar said here at an interaction organised by the Mantralaya and Vidhimandal Vartahar Sangh, an association of reporters who cover legislature and government.
At an election rally in Baramati earlier this week, Modi had said NCP's election symbol 'clock' symbolised their misdeeds. He also alleged that senior Pawar and his nephew and former Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar had enslaved the people of Baramati with their domination in all spheres of life. Taking strong objection to pictures of Modi and his speeches in the US being used as campaign material for the BJP in Maharashtra, Pawar said, "Modi visited the US as Prime Minister of the country and not leader of BJP. It is unfortunate that his speeches are being shown as part of the party's campaign and it is height of misuse of power."
Replying to questions, Pawar said it was too early to assess Modi's performance as Prime Minister since May. "However, he has to focus on priorities. At least appoint a full time Defence Minister so that the morale of the forces on the borders is boosted. Ceasefire violations are happening on daily basis," Pawar said rejecting Modi's charge that border tensions are being politicised. To a query on Modi's campaign in the state, the former Agriculture Minister said every politician has the right to campaign for his party but state issues are highlighted in Assembly polls. He said the national leadership should fulfil its responsibility of looking after border tensions and take steps to boost the morale of the Army.
Alleging that BJP had defamed Maharashtra through its ad campaigns, Pawar said the state was ahead of Gujarat in terms of per capita income, investment and industrial output. "When I was the Chief Minister, Chimanbhai Patel ruled Gujarat. Never before there was such act of one upmanship. Maharashtra and Gujarat always co-operated with each other," he said. Pawar also said BJP had no right to seek votes in the name of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
"A seventh standard Social Science textbook of Gujarat has distorted facts about the Maratha warrior king saying that he was born in 1603 AD at Shivneri Palace and Konddev was his grandfather," the NCP leader said quoting a document which he received from Vadodara. He also lashed out at Modi government for using state-owned broadcaster Doordarshan "to propagate the RSS ideology". "The I&B ministry says the RSS chef's Dussehra speech had news value. The RSS chief delivers his speech every year during Dussehra. Even Vajpayee did not find news value in that when he was Prime Minister," he said. Pawar said forcing one's ideology on people is a cause of concern.
"Social equality comes under danger in such situations. I am willing to co-operate if an anti-BJP front materialises," he said, adding that he would not take any initiative in this regard. When asked about Modi's criticism on his tenure as Agriculture Minister,the NCP chief said his successor in the ministry has said godowns are filled with food grains. "Surely this has not happened overnight after Modi took over. Modi is maligning agriculturists who took so much pains to increase the country's food production," he said. To a query on speculation that Mumbai will be separated from Maharashtra, Pawar said he apprehended that the state and Mumbai's importance would be lowered by the Modi government, but no one can try to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra.
On the issue of Vidarbha, Pawar said even though BJP manifesto does not mention about separate statehood, the Maharashtra unit leaders are speaking openly in favour of it. "NCP is for united Maharashtra. But, if voting is held by Election Commission to ascertain the people's views and if they are in support of Vidarbha, NCP will back the demand," Pawar said, recalling the plebiscite in Goa on the issue of merger with Maharashtra.