With Congress hardliners like Vilasrao Deshmukh demanding that the party go it alone in the coming Assembly elections, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar found the sealink’s inauguration a perfect time to cozy up to his alliance partner.
At the function, it was Pawar who demanded that the sealink be named after late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. “He played a crucial role in fuelling the country’s information technology and telecom revolution. There can be no better idol for youngsters. It would be appropriate to name the bridge after Rajiv Gandhi,” Pawar said as Congress chief Sonia Gandhi looked on.
Some political parties, like the Shiv Sena, had demanded that the sealink be named after a Maharashtrian leader. In response, Pawar interrupted Chief Minister Ashok Chavan’s speech to clarify that he believed Rajiv to be a son of the soil.
“Many will oppose my demand, but Rajiv was a bhoomiputra (son of the soil), who was born in the city and spent a large part of his life in Mumbai,” Pawar said.
Pawar had broken away from the Congress in 1999 protesting against the possibility of Rajiv’s widow Sonia, who is of Italian origin, becoming prime minister.
He, however, decided to form a post-poll alliance with the Congress in Maharashtra in 1999 and was part of the United Progressive Alliance Central Government in 2004. He is also part of it now.
With the NCP’s poor showing in the recent Lok Sabha elections, there is an increasing feeling in the Congress that it should contest the Assembly elections on its own. This is why Pawar’s statements are significant.
Some political observers noted that Pawar and Sonia sharing the dais at the sealink’s opening was an attempt by Chavan to send a signal that the two parties want to fight the polls together.