Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar has said that he would want the party to lead the next Maharashtra government or occupy the opposition benches, but not form post-poll alliances with any other party.
"If we are not the single largest party, we'll use the next few years to spread the NCP," the former Union minister said in an interview to Hindustan Times.
This is a multi-cornered election after decades. Does that make it the toughest one you have led?
On the contrary, the multi-cornered contest makes it easier. Though initially we were unprepared, this is the best way for all parties to test their true strength.
Which party will get a majority or be the single largest party?
I don't want to say anything about this at this stage. It will affect the NCP campaign and my candidates' prospects.
Opinion polls suggest the BJP will have the required numbers…
These opinion polls are only one-arm instruments used in elections. They have gone wrong too. Besides, I've toured the state and I don't think this is correct. In fact, the Shiv Sena seems to be ahead.
There's a wide perception that you may ally with the Shiv Sena or even the BJP if either of them needs the numbers to form the government…
This is not correct at all. I would like the NCP to lead the government, but if not, it should sit in the opposition for five years. But I'm not in favour of a post-poll alliance with any party. In fact, sitting in the opposition will help us to expand and grow the party.
So you are ruling out any kind of post-poll alliance for the NCP.
Yes, but let us also wait for the result.
It's said that you engineered the BJP-Sena split and then broke your alliance with Congress to manoeuvre post-poll situations.
(Smiles) If I'm that powerful that a national party will listen to me, then it's wonderful. But this isn't correct. The NCP had no choice but to break the alliance because the Congress under Prithviraj Chavan wanted to damage us.
Does it have anything to do with the fact that the Cong-NCP alliance was not going to retain power and you don't need an ally to sit in the opposition?
We ran a government well together for more than 11 years. The problems only started about three years ago.
Are you pointing to Prithviraj Chavan?
Yes. He came here with a strategy and design to marginalise the NCP. He has acted with that intent. It's not possible to work together.
But there have been problems on the ground throughout the alliance…
That's why I'm saying the split is good. The NCP has fought less than half of the 288 seats for 15 years, in the seats we didn't have, our workers were getting impatient too.
There are allegations that Ajit Pawar too did not cooperate with the then chief minister.
That's not right at all. He was targeted all the time.
He's also seen as brash, arrogant and entitled to power because he's a Pawar.
Each one has his style. He has been in politics for nearly 25 years and wouldn't have lasted if he didn't work or have some good points. Besides, our leader in that role is elected.
Prime Minister Modi has strongly criticised you and Ajit Pawar, that too in Baramati. What's your reaction?
Let him say whatever he wants to. It's not going to change the ground reality in Baramati. He's not targeting Congress. He won't say anything against the Sena. But he's attacking us. He has campaigned in all constituencies where we have strong candidates. But I feel he's behaving only as the leader of his party; it seems he forgets he's the Prime Minister of India.
You have pointed fingers at him for campaigning while Pakistan violates the ceasefire every day…
Yes, the Prime Minister must ensure the safety and security of the nation first. Instead, he's in campaign mode. He has turned this state election into a prestige issue… You can't run India as a one-man team. Why isn't there an independent Defence Minister?
The buzz is that the defence portfolio is being kept vacant for you should you go on board as an ally in Maharashtra.
In this election where regional identity has become important, the NCP appears to be on the same side as the Sena and MNS. How would you explain this?
It's the BJP president Amit Shah who first made this Marathi-Gujarati divide. Others had to respond.